GREAT FALLS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced new rules regarding school lunch programs. The new rules, according to the agency, are designed to give schools "more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste. The proposed rule also encourages state and local operators to focus resources on feeding children rather than administrative paperwork," according to a USDA news release.
Jessa Youngers, the Great Falls Public Schools food director, said, "It’s important to note that the proposed changes or flexibilities are simply to allow for more local control in order to better serve a district’s unique population. At Great Falls Public Schools, we value the health and well-being of the students we serve and do not intend on changing course as a result of these proposed flexibilities. We will remain dedicated to finding menus that appeal to our students while promoting and providing a variety of healthy options."
Carol Little, who works in the cafeteria at Sacajawea Elementary School, said, "The school lunch program is one place where the child is able to get the fruits and vegetables that they need that they may not be able to get at home." She added, "Some kids, this is the best meal that they have of the day."
The USDA says the new rules will:
- Allowing local schools to offer more vegetable varieties, while keeping plenty of veggies in each meal;
- Making it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrees for a la carte purchase, thereby reducing food waste;
- Providing schools options to customize meal patterns to best serve children in different grades or smaller schools who eat together;
- Supporting a more customized school breakfast environment by letting schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates, ultimately encouraging breakfast options outside the cafeteria so students can start their day with a healthy breakfast; and
- Shifting to a performance-focused administrative review process that is less burdensome and time consuming, which would increase collaboration with operators to improve program integrity.