Earlier this week Dr. Katie Wilson, deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the USDA, provided an update on all things USDA to a group of child nutrition professionals at the School Nutrition Association’s SNIC conference in San Diego. The overarching theme: Make sure you have your information correct.
Wilson pleaded with the group to ensure they understood the definitions of some key terms in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. One, which Wilson said has often been misunderstood, is whole-grain rich. “This does not mean that 100 percent of the items have to be 100 percent whole grain,” Wilson said. It means that 100 percent of items must be whole-grain rich. What does “rich” mean? It means that 50 percent of the grain item must be whole grains and the other 50 percent does not. Wilson went on to give several examples of whole-grain rich items that had the audience laughing, including, “You can take a sandwich and have one piece of bread whole grain and one piece of white bread. Put whatever side facing up that you’re kids like. That’s whole-grain rich.”
Another area Wilson provided some clarification on was the newly implemented professional standards for child nutrition employees. These regulations govern what type of educational background candidates for different child nutrition jobs must have and also the amount of continuing education they must do every year. “Everyone is grandfathered in,” Wilson said of the rules. Wilson said no one who was in a position before the rules were implemented July 1, 2015, would have to leave her job because she failed to meet the new rules. The rules regarding education apply only to new applicants or to people looking at promotions to a new job. Wilson also clarified that every child nutrition professional, regardless of his/her job, must do CEUs.
Wilson also stressed the importance of the Buy American provision when purchasing goods. As the global economy is expanding, Wilson said this provision was becoming a bit trickier to navigate. One district in California recently found itself in hot water over its fruit purchases from China. Wilson said there are only two exceptions to the Buy American provision—you can’t get the product in the US or the cost to buy American is excessively prohibitive.
Wilson also warned child nutrition professionals to be careful when purchasing items they see on show floors. “People come to shows and they assume [products they are shown] are American but they aren’t,” she said. “We’ve done a good job at marketing Smart Snacks-approved items but we’ve lost the Buy American in this.”
The last area Wilson urged for awareness was also in the procurement of goods. She said she’s seeing some issues during administrative reviews that need to be addressed. One of those trouble areas is ensuring that bids are open and fair. Wilson said she’s seeing some unallowable costs in certain bids. Those include incentives and value-added items that only one company can provide. “Does that make it open and fair,” Wilson asked of the practice.
Wilson said if directors wanted help writing bids they should get that assistance from fellow directors and not from vendors, because, again, if those specs are coming from a vendor are they really open and fair?
Wilson also stressed the importance of providing quality meals during summer feeding. She said she’s visited many summer feeding sites and the quality of the meals served at some locations during summer isn’t on par with what’s being served during the school year.
Lastly, Wilson made some comments on the impending Child Nutrition Reauthorization Senate bill, which was marked up Jan. 20, but the text of which was released Jan. 15. Wilson said she was pleased about the bipartisan work being done to move forward the bill to provide healthier meals to children.
The Senate bill includes the following:
• Equipment grants and loan assistance
• A return to administrative review on a five-year cycle instead of three
• Easing of the Paid Meal Equity mandates
• A reduction of whole-grain rich from 100 percent of items to 80 percent of items
• Moving back sodium reduction level II by two years to July 1, 2019
• Establishing a working group to determine the impact of a la carte restrictions under Smart Snacks rules
The Senate bill does not, however, provide any increase in reimbursement for school meals, something SNA has been asking for many years.
With regard to school waste, which many directors say has increased with new fruit and vegetable requirements, Wilson had this to say: “It’s always been a problem in school food. I found a research paper from 1978 about food waste in school meals.” Wilson acknowledged that the lack of time to eat was a huge factor in waste and said that while this complaint is in the hands of the department of education, they “are having conversations about this.”
Contact Becky Schilling at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @bschilling_FM