National School Lunch Program Flexibilities Announced by USDA
Due to the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that flexibilities to the National School Lunch Program are extended until June 2021. The changes are to ensure children receive the food they need throughout the upcoming school year and give states, schools, and childcare providers time to plan for how they will serve children in the fall.
“As the country re-opens and schools prepare for the fall, a one-size-fits-all approach to meal service simply won’t cut it,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue, in a press release. “The flexibilities announced today give states, schools, and child care providers the certainty they need to operate the USDA child nutrition programs in ways that make sense given their local, on-the-ground situations and ensure America’s children can count on meal service throughout the school year.”
Many schools are still weighing their options as they consider re-opening plans. President Trump recently said on twitter that schools choosing not to re-open might have their funding cut. Regardless, this announcement by the USDA empowers schools to operate the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to best serve their students throughout the 2020-2021 school year. It also allows providers in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to tailor operations to serve the children in their care.
The flexibilities include changes to meal patterns, group-setting requirements, meal service times, parent/guardian pick-up of meals for kids across all three programs, and waives the offer-versus-serve requirement for high schools to provide students the option to select some of the foods offered in a meal. The USDA believes these waivers reduce barriers to meal service options that support a transition back to normal operations while simultaneously responding to evolving local conditions.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, applauded the decision by the USDA, stating, “I thank Secretary Perdue for providing certainty to school foodservice operators that flexibilities will remain available through the upcoming school year as they re-design the way meals are provided to children when schools re-open.”