New Meal Pattern Changes: What do they mean?

You can review the full text of the USDA child nutrition meal pattern changes. For additional information, you can also view this slideshow from USDA Food and Nutrition Service Child Nutrition Division.

SNF held three listening sessions while in Nashville for ANC 2011. Sponsored by the National Dairy Council, these sessions were dedicated to discussion of the USDA-proposed meal pattern changes, and organized to encourage a dialogue among school nutrition professionals about what the changes would mean from a practical, implementation standpoint in their school cafeterias.

Many common themes were explored, and while session attendees acknowledged that there are challenges ahead in order to make the changes—and to make them affordable—there was a real excitement about this new opportunity to bring healthy changes to school food.

Among the common concerns expressed were financial issues; specifically the projected per-meal cost increase. Another challenge that was repeated several times was in regard to vegetables: the starchy vegetable limitations, as well as the increased dark/leafy green requirements and the addition of orange/red vegetables that might meet with some resistance from student consumers. While there is some worry about the issue of acceptance—what kids will eat, the potential for food waste—there was also a lot of optimism about the ability to deliver healthy, new, exciting foods and accompanying food education to students.

There was also a lot of enthusiasm about the proposed changes: many thought that the MyPlate icon, which recently replaced the food pyramid, would be extremely helpful from an educational standpoint, when used in conjunction with the proposed meal patterns. One of our group participants suggested that the new guidelines would be a helpful partnership-building tool, creating a new environment to build and strengthen partnerships, and to encourage industry to move more quickly to create healthier options. (Whole grains, lower sodium, etc.)

Support for the suggested dairy changes was almost unanimous; most representatives said their schools have already been moving in the direction that the USDA meal patterns map out, so continuing to implement the changes would be a more seamless, ongoing process. Although there were some concerns that the proposed third-tier of sodium reduction would have a negative impact on dairy items (like cheese and yogurt) down the line, there was a high level of support for the proposed dairy changes in the meal pattern guidelines in general.

We hope that this will be an ongoing dialogue, so we invite you to comment on this issue in the comments section! What parts of the USDA meal patterns are you happy about? What parts concern you, or present the biggest challenge to your program? Are you already implementing some of these changes in anticipation of their adoption? What solutions are you using to meet the challenges of student acceptance, menu planning, and budgeting?

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