School nutrition programs are extremely large, complex organizations that play a vital role in the lives of many children. It is important that these programs meet compliancy set by the USDA. It is the job of the School Nutrition Director to ensure that the program is accountable and meeting expectations.
It is important to note, however, that accountability and compliance are not the same thing. To remain accountable your program must exceed just being compliant.
Four areas of accountability are the most important: nutrition, financial, program access, and school wellness. Remaining accountable in these areas helps create a well-rounded and successful school nutrition program.

Who Are Your Nutrition Program Stakeholders?

Just like any other organization of its size, the school nutrition department has many stakeholders with whom they need to stay accountable. The most important of these are the students—the program’s daily customers. It is the program’s job to ensure that students have a safe and healthy meal each day at school. Parents of these students also have a stake hold because they trust you to provide their students with a proper meal. Parents also rely on you to award their student with the highest available benefits for which they are eligible.
It is impossible to forget the importance of the government and district administrators in program accountability. The government is crucial because they ensure that you are meeting all regulations. The district administrators play an important role in accountability because of their financial responsibility. Other important stakeholders include the community, vendors, and community programs. They play a vital role because they all work with the program to promote healthy meals.

Area of Accountability #1: Nutrition

It seems fitting that the first area of accountability we will discuss is nutrition because the entire purpose of your school nutrition program is to provide nutritious meals for students. The USDA spends their time regulating the planning and serving process. Therefore, it is important that your district abides by each USDA regulation.
Furthermore, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes set the requirements for school meals. These guidelines help you understand how to remain accountable when creating meals. It is also important when creating meals to know what food makes a meal for lunch and breakfast so I have broken it down below.

Lunch Must Offer:

  • Meats or meat alternative
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fluid milk

It is important to note that a set minimum amount or quantity must be offered for each of these components. However, students only have to select three of the five components to make it a nutritious meal. As a school nutrition director it is your duty to ensure that each of these elements in the proper quantities is offered during any given lunch period. This helps you remain accountable to the important stakeholders—students and parents.

Breakfast Must Offer:

  • Grains (with optional meat or meat alternative)
  • Fruit
  • Fluid Milk

Similar to lunch, you must offer all three of these elements in the minimum amount allotted. However, at breakfast you must offer four things. In order to consider a meal nutritious, a student must select three components. It is just as important at breakfast as it is at lunch to meet these guidelines. They ensure that the participants are receiving a beneficial breakfast. This continues to keep you accountable.
It is clear that many stakeholders rely on you to remain accountable because it ensures that they are receiving nutritious meals throughout their school day.
Stay tuned next week when we tackle the second area of accountability- finance! In the meantime, tell us how you remain accountable within nutrition.