Serving 30 million lunches each day is a feat that seems like it can only be accomplished by a small army. However, this is a task the School Nutrition Association (SNA) does successfully every single day through their 55,000 members. Feedback from these members aid SNA in creating an effective government platform for the coming year, known as the SNA Position Paper. The paper serves as a guideline for SNA members who wish to lobby Congress on behalf of school nutrition programs.
SNA recently released the 2015 Position Paper to its members. Upon release, the paper has received its fair share of praise and criticism. We spoke with school nutrition professionals around the country to better understand how members are reacting to this year’s Position Paper. We have broken down where the people we spoke with believe the positives and negatives lie within each point of the paper.
SNA 2015 Position Paper
The major take-away points from our discussions with SNA members are described below.
1) Increase the per-meal reimbursement for school breakfast and lunch by 35 cents to ensure School Food Authorities (SFAs) can afford to meet federal requirements.
Everyone agrees this point is consistent with an argument SNA has been making for several years. Which makes it clear to the government that SNA is serious about the 35 cent increase. This demand proves that SNA feels this increase is crucial to the success of school nutrition programs. Also, while 35 cents may seem a steep request it creates a bargaining position and some wiggle room in negotiation.
Many people wonder why this point will fly this year since it has not worked in the past. One of the primary criticisms that follows this point is the excessiveness of a 35 cent increase. While this amount may seem insignificant to the average person, this is huge to the government and school nutrition professionals. It may be beneficial to request a more palatable amount such as 25 cents.
2) Maintain the Target 1 sodium level reductions and suspend implementation of further targets.
Overall, most feel the concept of maintaining the Target I sodium level reductions is solid. If USDA pursues stricter regulations then some perfectly healthy food such as milk and some meats, will not be allowed. Furthermore, this has already been implemented in school nutrition programs throughout the nation meaning very few changes to the ingredients and menu items will be necessary.
When talking with other members of the industry we realized some ambiguity in the details of this point exist. Some interpret the point to mean that USDA should never implement further sodium targets while others think SNA is suggesting studies to help reassess/redefine future targets. This confusion may lead to an inconsistent SNA voice during lobbying efforts.
3) Grant individual SFAs the authority to decide whether students are required to take a fruit or vegetable as part of a reimbursable meal.
Many school nutrition directors support this point because this would offer them control over a portion of their program. With so many other government regulations to follow it is nice to have an area where they can make their own decisions. It is almost guaranteed that this perceived control will make many school nutrition professionals happy.
The main question that was raised about this idea is if this decision is left up to individual SFAs why should we even bother with a regulation? Several people believe this flexibility will also increase the administrative burden for State Agencies since there will not be one consistent regulation to monitor during Administrative Reviews (AR). It may also cause anxiety or confusion for program directors during ARs.The regulation that requires students to pick up the fruit or vegetable lays a foundation of healthy eating habits. Some think if we no longer make this a requirement we will fall backwards.
4) Restore the initial requirement that at least half of grains offered through school lunch and breakfast programs be whole grain-rich.
This idea is viewed positively because some whole grain-rich foods do not look appetizing. For example, whole grain – rich tortillas can look burnt and may not be eaten by students. Also, whole grain-rich foods are more expensive and are often considered specialty items. This means that only requiring half of grains offered to be whole grain – rich will be more cost effective for the school nutrition programs, something directors appreciate.
Although, many believe 100% whole grain-rich is a big stretch, you cannot deny the health factors it provides. Many schools have already made the nearly inevitable transition to all whole grain-rich offerings so why should they move backwards again? Some school nutrition professionals suggested meeting in the middle and requiring 75% of grains to be whole grain-rich so that all SFAs are improving the health factor in their meals.
5) Allow all food items that are permitted to be served as part of a reimbursable meal to be sold at any time as an a la carte item.
The people we spoke with thought this point seems like a no-brainer. We are in complete agreement that allowing menu items such as low sodium peas to be served a la carte will be beneficial. This point seems so blatantly obvious that it is an action even people unfamiliar with the school nutrition industry can support. Several members believe this point has the ability to serve as a rallying point for the many SNA members.
Of all the people we spoke with we could not find a single person who had a negative thing to say about this idea. Which by now may seem surprising to you.
6) Modify Section 205, Paid Lunch Equity of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, by exempting SFAs that had a positive fund balance at the end of the previous school year.
Once again, this is a point that many school nutrition directors agree on. They think SFAs should have the freedom to make fiscally responsible decisions when they are in the black, including how much to charge for paid meals. This point allows school nutrition professionals even more control over their programs.
This point was confusing to several people. The question asked was, isn’t the point of Paid Lunch Equity to ensure that reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals are not subsidizing paid meals? This point seems to contradict the request for more money in point one. On one hand SNA says nobody can survive on the reimbursements provided, and on the other they are talking about SFAs that have “extra money” at the end of the year. Of course, school nutrition professionals such as those we spoke with, know that there are many other factors that come into play, but legislators may not understand the complete picture. Therefore, this apparent contradiction might cause confusion with the intended audience.
7) Provide program simplification
Everyone agrees that the programs desperately need to be simplified. If the programs become simpler it will make the lives of everyone involved significantly better. To many members of the school nutrition industry, this point is a “duh.
Since this is a “duh” point several of our customers wonder why SNA did not put forth more effort towards this idea. The Position Paper , does not specify what actions would make the programs simpler. Program simplification would have been a stronger point if suggestions had been made. Without these recommendations the point seems vague and will not serve well as the closing argument of the Position Paper and lobbying efforts.
Whether you agree or disagree with the points made in the Position Paper we can all appreciate the difficulty of constructing this paper. Trying to embody the ideas and opinions of over 55,000 members is no easy task. So, hats off to the committee that worked diligently to create this year’s Position Paper. The members of SNA appreciate your dedication to the success of the school nutrition industry.
Have you had a chance to read the 2015 Position Paper in full? We would love to know how you feel about each of the ideas presented. If you found the information in this article useful be sure to share it with your peers!