School food service directors criticize proposed USDA meal regulations

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5- Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) will offer an amendment that challenges the USDA proposal to limit potatoes in school meals when the Agricultural Appropriations bill reaches the Senate floor this week. 


The proposed USDA School Meal Regulations mandate that one half cup of starchy vegetables can be served twice per week in schools participating in national school meal programs. The regulation restricts weekly servings of potatoes, corn, lima beans and peas.


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According to a national survey of district school food service directors released today, a majority of directors believe USDA's vegetable regulations would cause a decrease in participation in the School Lunch Program and an increase in plate waste. 


“When prepared in a healthy manner, these vegetables are nutritious, and children can learn to eat them and al vegetables in healthy ways,” said Collins at today's National Potato Council panel discussion. “Rather than encouraging healthier preparation and greater variety of vegetables in the school meals programs, this rule limits schools' ability to serve healthy, popular and low-cost vegetables.”


The National Potato Council released the survey of 245 directors during an event that hosted Collins and a panel of nutritionists and school food service directors. According to today's speakers, the USDA's School Meal Regulations would cost schools too much money, decrease participation in the School Lunch Program and limit the availability of vegetables in school meals.


The American Heart Association is among the supporters of the proposed regulations. The Association believes children are consuming too many starchy vegetables in their school meals and that French Fries and tater tots are unhealthy staples in school cafeterias. It supports the USDA limit on potatoes and other starchy vegetables to no more than two servings per week, while also recommending minor adjustments.

“We recommend that the agency modify the rule to allow vegetable combinations that contain starchy vegetables as long as the other requirements for legumes, dark green and orange vegetables have been met,” according to a statement from the American Heart Association. 

However, school food service directors reported that reaching the USDA recommendations would be difficult. The USDA regulations mandate schools to double the servings of all vegetables in school meals, while at the same time limiting the amount of starchy vegetables available to school children.

“If a school serves a medium baked potato on Monday, it cannot serve a full serving of other potatoes, green peas, or corn for the rest of the week,” Collins said. “That simply makes no sense.” 

School nutrition advocate and today's panel moderator, Dayle Hayes, said the regulations aren't necessary because schools across the country are already adjusting their menus to the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines. She and the members of the panel believe the proposed rule would increase the amount of plate waste in school cafeterias and cost too much to implement. 

Director of Food Services for the Los Angeles Unified School District, Dennis Barrett, said that even if students paid more for the revised school meals, the extra money would only generate approximately $3 million per year, while the cost to implement the program would cost $50 million per year.

USDA published its proposal last January. The proposed School Meal Regulations already have thousands of comments for review and will not be finalized for the next several months. If passed, the regulations would be implemented by July 2012 for the next school year. 

Today's event was supported by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) and Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio); and the National Potato Council. 


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