School Meal Flexibilities for School Year 2017–18
Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin
Purpose: Policy, Beneficial Information
To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors
Attention: Program Operators
Date: August 2017
Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Policy Memorandum SP 32 2017: School Meal Flexibilities for School Year 2017–18
Supersedes: MB SNP-14-2016 Whole Grain-rich Exemption for School Year 2016–17
Subject: School Meal Flexibilities for School Year 2017–18
This management bulletin (MB) provides information and instructions for school food authorities (SFA) regarding several menu planning flexibilities that assist schools in serving healthy and appealing school meals.
On May 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued Policy Memorandum SP 32-2017: School Meal Flexibilities for School Year (SY) 2017–18. The policy memo addresses a proclamation made by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announcing several menu planning flexibilities related to whole grains, flavored milk, and sodium in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) for SY 2017–18. You can view this policy memo on the USDA School Meals Policy Web page at http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/policy.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 brought many improvements to the School Nutrition Programs (SNP) to improve meal quality and access. New regulations require school meals to provide more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat milk. The standards were implemented gradually, over multiple years, giving school district staff and students time to adjust to the changes.
In 2014, federal regulations required SFAs participating in the NSLP and SBP to offer all grains that were whole grain-rich (WGR). Products that meet the WGR criteria contain at least 50 percent whole grain meal and/or flour. The remaining 50 percent or less of grains, if any, must be enriched. Schools are not required to offer 100 percent whole grain products.
The USDA updated school meal nutrition standards also established three sodium targets to be phased in over a 10-year period, with specific levels for students in three grade ranges. Schools were expected to comply with the sodium Target 1 levels by SY 2014–15, the Target 2 levels by SY 2017–18, and the final target levels by SY 2022–23.
The USDA recognizes that school nutrition professionals have worked diligently to overcome operational challenges in providing meals that encourage student participation and enhance their educational experience throughout the school day. However, schools and the food industry have expressed the need for additional time and assistance to effectively achieve changes in the school meal patterns, including those related to sodium and whole grains. In addition, the USDA recognizes that schools need flexibility to offer additional milk options to ensure children receive the nutrients provided by milk.
Section 747(b) of the federal Appropriations Act for SY 2017–18 states that schools must continue to meet Sodium Target 1. As a result, schools are not required to reduce sodium further to meet the Target 2 level as originally planned. The USDA will continue to support program operators with their sodium reduction efforts by providing resources and technical assistance. Schools are encouraged to continue to work toward creating Target 2 level sodium menus that students enjoy.
Low-fat (1 Percent) Flavored Milk Exemption Request, Criteria, and Process
Under Section 747(c) of SY 2017–18 Appropriations Act, the California Department of Education (CDE) can grant SFAs exemptions allowing them to serve low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk in the NSLP and the SBP. While the Appropriations Act allows an SFA exemption to serve low-fat flavored milk as a competitive beverage, California Education Code (EC) sections 49431.5(a)(1)(D) and 49431.5(a)(3)(D) only allow nonfat flavored milk. Therefore, a public, noncharter school can request a waiver to serve low-fat flavored milk as part of NSLP or SBP, but there is not a waiver to sell low-fat flavored milk as a competitive beverage. Charter or private schools participating in the NSLP or SBP, however, are not required to follow the California EC. Therefore, a charter or private school can request a waiver to serve low-fat flavored milk in the NSLP or SBP and sell low-fat flavored milk as a competitive beverage for SY 2017–18.
To qualify for the exemption, schools must demonstrate hardship by documenting a reduction in student milk consumption or an increase in school milk waste. An SFA may submit a School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form (available in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System [CNIPS] Form ID SNP 06) with supporting documentation to the CDE for approval. Documentation of hardships that the CDE may consider includes, but is not limited to:
- Records indicating a significant decrease in milk sales since implementation of the current meal patterns and/or offering of alternate products and brands.
- Documented significant negative feedback from parents and/or students regarding the palatability of fat-free, flavored milk, or lack of availability of low-fat, flavored milk.
- A food waste study indicating significant waste of fluid milk.
SFAs that receive an exemption are considered compliant with the milk requirement during an administrative review (AR) if their offerings are consistent with the exemption granted by the CDE, and at least two varieties of milk are offered daily. SFAs must maintain the approved School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form and supporting documentation to provide to their Child Nutrition Consultant (CNC) during an AR.
Whole Grain-rich Exemption Request, Criteria, and Process
Section 747(a) of the SY 2017–18 Appropriations Act allows the CDE to grant an exemption from the WGR requirements to SFAs that demonstrate hardship(s) in procuring and serving compliant WGR products that are accepted by students. Exemptions are allowed for any type of grain product(s) and for one or more different products for SY 2017–18. SFAs that are granted an exemption must work with the CDE to search for acceptable products and comply with the requirement that at least half of the grains offered are WGR products.
An SFA may submit a School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form with supporting documentation to the CDE if the SFA can demonstrate a hardship in procuring, preparing, or serving WGR products that are compliant with the meal requirements and accepted by students. Documentation of hardships that the CDE may consider includes, but is not limited to:
- Financial hardship: SFA records demonstrate a significant drop in meal counts after offering WGR product(s) and/or the SFA experienced a significant cost increase when procuring the WGR product(s).
- Limited product availability: The SFA does not have access to a compliant WGR product in the local market and would like to offer enriched grain item(s) temporarily.
- Unacceptable product quality: The WGR product(s) offered by the SFA did not retain the desired texture or lost palatability during the typical holding time.
- Poor student acceptability: The WGR product(s) offered by the SFA received significant negative student and/or parent feedback or there was increased plate waste of that menu item when the SFA offered a WGR product(s) multiple times and over a sustained period of time.
SFAs that receive an exemption are considered compliant with the WGR requirement during an AR if their grain offerings are consistent with the exemption granted by the CDE, and at least half of the grains offered weekly are WGR. SFAs must maintain the approved School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form and supporting documentation to provide to their CDE CNC during an AR.
Documentation that assists the CDE with the approval of both exemptions includes invoices or purchase orders, menu production records and/or meal counts, vendor lists, photos, student/parent feedback surveys or comment sheets, and a written justification. The School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form for SY 2017–18 is available in the Download Forms section of the SNP module in CNIPS. An SFA must submit this form with an original signature to the CDE for approval prior to being allowed to use non-WGR products. The CDE will evaluate each request and notify the SFA of the exemption determination by e-mail within four weeks of receipt of this form.
Please send your completed and signed School Meal Flexibilities Exemption Request Form to:
Lori Porter, CNC
Southern School Nutrition Programs Unit
Nutrition Services Division
California Department of Education
1430 N Street, Suite 4503
Sacramento, CA 95814
If you have any questions regarding this MB, please contact Lori Porter, CNC, by phone at 916-322-1454 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Julie BoarerPitchford, Nutrition Education Consultant, by phone at 916-322-1563 or by e-mail at email@example.com.