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National Farm to School Network

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NFSN Statement on Newest USDA Proposed Changes to School Nutrition Standards

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 23, 2020

On Jan. 17, USDA announced new proposed rules to further modify nutrition standards established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. These proposals—which follow other highly contested changes that have rolled back nutrition standards— would loosen restrictions for school meal requirements that could result in less fruit available at breakfast, reduce vegetables at lunch, and make it even more difficult for students to make healthy choices in the cafeteria.

National Farm to School Network advocates that any proposed changes be informed by both the needs of children and the capacity and expertise of the staff feeding our children. Program flexibility and efficiency that does not sacrifice quality and nutrition should be the primary goal of any proposed rules. Ultimately, these programs exist to serve our children and to support their wellbeing. Many of the 20 million children receiving free and reduced-price meals rely on school meals for the majority of their daily calories and nutrition, and for some children, these are the only meals they eat. These children are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of malnutrition, so the nutritional quality of these meals is of utmost importance in ensuring a lifetime of health and wellbeing.

For these reasons, the National Farm to School Network firmly opposes any of USDA’s proposed changes that would reduce the nutritional quality of school meals. USDA’s own School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study found that the stronger standards are having positive impacts, and numerous studies have shown that they’re working to get students eating more fruits and vegetables, maintaining NSLP participation, and not increasing plate waste.

We recognize that the nutrition standard changes from 2010 can be challenging to implement because children need time to adjust to new and unfamiliar foods and child nutrition staff need time, training, and support to adapt to new guidelines. Farm to school practices are a solution to many of the challenges that schools are facing as they continue to transition. Farm to school activities like taste tests, school gardens, farm visits and cooking demonstrations are part of the equation that’s helping students get excited about trying and liking these new, healthier foods. As our kids continue to grow accustomed to the healthier nutrition standards and our country remains plagued by childhood obesity, it’s a disservice to them and their future to turn back on nutritional quality.

USDA’s new proposals were entered in the Federal Register on Jan. 23, and will be open for public comment for 60 days. In the coming days, we will share additional information and materials about how you can join us in submitting comments on these proposed changes. Contact Chloe Marshall, NFSN Policy Specialist, at chloe@farmtoschool.org with questions.

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