Students across the United States have greater access than ever before to healthy school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, thanks in part to recently updated national standards that set a high nutritional bar for school food and drinks. Approximately 90 percent of school districts are meeting these standards, which polling shows are supported by the vast majority of parents.
Parents, students, school leaders, and policymakers will have new opportunities in 2015 to build on this progress. Here are five issues to watch:
Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. First enacted in 1966, the federal Child Nutrition Act oversees all national child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Programs, among others. Congress typically reviews and reapproves this law every five years. The Senate Agriculture Committee conducted two related hearings in 2014 on the importance of school meals programs and the challenges associated with feeding the nation’s schoolchildren.
With the current law—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act—expiring Sept. 30, 2015, both chambers are likely to hold child nutrition hearings this year and propose legislation to renew these programs.
Local wellness policies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to issue a final rule on what needs to be included in local wellness policies. Established by and specific to an individual school district, these policies promote the health of students and address the growing problem of childhood obesity. Among other requirements, schools may only market foods and beverages that meet the Smart Snacks standards, which ensures consistent promotion of healthy items throughout the campus. The updated standards will increase accountability and give parents and communities more information about school districts’ progress in promoting wellness. Read the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project’s comments on the proposed rule.
- Nutrition standards for child care centers. On Jan. 9, 2015, USDA proposed nutrition standards for meals provided through the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which feeds more than 3 million children and adults each day in out-of-home care settings. The updated guidelines—which complement recently updated standards for school meals and snacks—are designed to follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans1 and scientific recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. A 90-day public comment period will run until April when USDA will review stakeholder input and publish a final rule.
- Additional support for schools. Schools need resources such as updated kitchen equipment, staff training, and technical assistance to serve healthy meals and snacks. Last year, the federal government took steps to help address schools’ needs, which will continue into 2015. Among these efforts:
- Congress passed a budget for fiscal year 2015 that includes $25 million for schools to purchase kitchen equipment. This funding builds on the $35 million appropriated and distributed to states for school food service grants in the past two years.
- USDA launched the Team Up for Success pilot training initiative to identify challenges and to provide resources to promote a healthier school day. Through the initiative, schools addressed unique obstacles by participating in a training workshop followed by peer-to-peer mentoring; they will continue receiving assistance this year. The results of the pilot will help to inform future efforts to potentially expand the initiative.
- Standards for school food service professionals. Recognizing the complexity of school nutrition programs and the need for ongoing training, Congress directed USDA to establish minimum professional standards for the school nutrition personnel who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The resulting proposed rule, released in February 2014, would institute hiring standards for state and local school nutrition program directors, as well as require all personnel in these programs to complete annual continuing education and training courses. USDA is reviewing comments received on the proposal and is expected to issue a final rule this year.
1The Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to eat a healthful diet that helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and USDA have jointly published the Dietary Guidelines every five years since 1980.