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Schools would have more flexibility in serving meals to students under two proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For the past two years, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service has asked school officials and stakeholders about challenges they face. School nutrition services said they would like more flexibility to better promote healthy eating and reduce food waste.

Dana Doerhoff, director of school nutrition services at the Jefferson City School District, said these USDA proposals, which would allow school nutrition professionals to serve meals that better appeal to students’ preferences and could reduce food waste, would only be small changes and would not affect JC Schools much.

To figure out what the students’ preferences are, the JC Schools food service team would take note of which food items were most popular and least popular in the lunch line, and they may also do student surveys, Doerhoff said. They would then adjust the options accordingly.

The proposals also encourage operators to focus resources on feeding children instead of administrative paperwork, and it would streamline the administrative review requirements. For example, it would allow for a five-year review process instead of three years for schools that are not “high-risk.”

The first proposal would allow schools to offer more vegetable varieties and better customize meals. For example, it would increase flexibility in the vegetable requirements for school lunches, it would allow legumes offered as a meat alternate to count toward the weekly legumes vegetable requirement, and it would allow schools to serve meat or meat alternates without a minimum grain requirement. It would also allow schools to adjust fruit servings and make it easier to offer meat or meat alternates at breakfast, and it would make it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrees for a la carte purchase, which could reduce food waste.

This proposal would also allow schools to customize meal patterns, which are categorized by kindergarten through fifth grade, sixth through eighth grade and ninth through 12th grade. This would not affect JC Schools because its buildings are set up in the way the meal patterns are categorized. But school districts that have different grades per building would be able to add or subtract a grade on one or both ends of the age group.

The other proposal would affect the Summer Food Service Program, which serves more than 2.6 million children nationally during the summer — when they are at higher risk of food insecurity and poor nutrition, because they do not have access to school meals.

The proposed rule would provide more flexibility in choosing the meals that are offered and when they are offered, and it would allow children to take certain food items off-site. It would also streamline the application for operators, which will reduce paperwork and make it easier for sponsors to participate.

There is a comment period open to the public at regulations.gov., and it will be open for about 40 more days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will review the input and then move forward with the process.

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