Meal Pattern Flexibilities under COVID-19
In our previous blog “Proposed Rule Perspectives”, we wrote about a proposed rule in January that would allow school food programs the flexibility to plan meals that are more tailored to the local preferences, tastes, and even local produce. The idea in mind was to help increase food participation, consumption, and therefore reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away.
But now we have an entirely different situation due to a virus that doesn’t care about your students’ preferences or your hometown’s vegetable harvest. In just a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has either interrupted the production and distribution of certain foods or run our vendors dry from increased consumer demand during the early parts of this pandemic. This has made meal-planning in schools even more difficult for programs that have been struggling with meal preparation and forecasting, maintaining health and safety standards, while taking a huge financial hit.
On March 25 the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act granted a waiver to all states that would allow more flexibility in meal patterns due to the impact that COVID-19 has had on the availability of products.
For this reason the FNS is waiving “the requirements to serve meals that meet the meal pattern requirements” during this time in order to “support access to nutritious meals while minimizing potential exposure to the novel coronavirus (COVID–19)”, and it’s one less thing for school food programs to stress about.
This waiver applies to the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Food Service Program (the Child Nutrition Programs).
Who Can Use It?
Although the waiver is available for all, state agencies must notify their regional office if they elect to use it. Similarly, school district program operators must request approval from their state in order to utilize this waiver. It’s not a free-for-all situation where school districts can serve everything and anything to their students and families. State agencies have to ensure that each school district’s requests for the waiver “are targeted and justified based upon disruptions to the availability of food products” that have resulted “from unprecedented impacts of COVID-19.” School districts, of course, still have the responsibility to maintain and meet the current nutrition standards as much as possible.
For How Long Is It Available?
The original waiver was granted until April 30, 2020 and was recently extended to May 31, 2020 to cover the end of the school year for many districts. While we don’t know what the summer will look like, or what the next school year will look like, for both our food-supply chain and life in general, this much is true: we need to continue to be flexible so that we can tackle each week’s challenges, whatever they may be, and focus on our families first.
“COVID-19 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibility in the Child Nutrition Programs” Link: https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/covid-19-meal-pattern-flexibility-waiver