School Nutritionists: Federal Mandates Break The Bank

Barb Wire

The country’s largest organization of school nutritionists is raising objections to the further implementation of federal nutrition standards for schools, saying they are grossly wasteful of both food and money.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA), which represents over 50,000 school nutrition professionals, released a statement warning that without congressional action, schools around the country are facing over $1.2 billion in additional costs this year, more than tripling the burden imposed on schools by federal nutrition mandates.

Passed in the salad days of the Obama administration’s first term, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has steadily been placing new requirements on schools around the country that benefit from federal school lunch programs. Early regulations, which came into force in 2012, forced schools to use more whole grains in food and compelled all school to offer vegetables and fruit daily.

Dianne Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the SNA, said the group has supported most requirements implemented thus far, but believes new ones taking effect this year go too far and cost too much. The most objectionable new requirement, she said, was one requiring every student receiving breakfast at school to be forcibly given a half-cup of fruit and vegetables, whether they planned to eat them or not.

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The requirement, she said, is both enormously wasteful and expensive, as schools are not given funding by Congress to implement it. The costs are increased, she said, by the fact that as fruits and vegetables are being forced on them, more students are deciding to opt out of school lunch programs entirely. According to data from the Department of Agriculture, a million fewer students are buying school lunches, which is increasing the financial burden on schools.

Scrapping the mandate, the SNA maintains, would allow school cafeterias to improve in other ways.

“We could reduce both waste and costs by not forcing students to take food they do not want,” Pratt-Heavner said. “By reducing that food waste, school cafeterias would have more money to make additional improvements to the menu…such as offering more whole-grain and low sodium items,” Pratt-Heavner told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Pratt-Heavner said nutritionists are wary of further requirements that remain on the horizon. In 2018 and 2022, schools will be required to significantly reduce how much sodium is present in their food offerings, a continuation of a reduction that began this year.

Pratt-Heavner said the SNA supports 2014’s sodium cuts, but views the next two as scientifically unjustified. The evidence is limited that children benefit from extremely low-sodium diets, she said, and Congress should at least hold off on the requirements until more scientific research has been done.

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