Yes, kids, pizza is a vegetable.

Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches

Published: November 15, 2011 NYTimes

WASHINGTON — A slice of pizza still counts as a vegetable.

In a victory for the makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries, Congress on Monday blocked rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation’s school lunch program.

The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program — were meant to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus, Agriculture Department officials said.

The rules, proposed last January, would have cut the amount of potatoes served and would have changed the way schools received credit for serving vegetables by continuing to count tomato paste on a slice of pizza only if more than a quarter-cup of it was used. The rules would have also halved the amount of sodium in school meals over the next 10 years.

But late Monday, lawmakers drafting a House and Senate compromise for the agriculture spending bill blocked the department from using money to carry out any of the proposed rules.

In a statement, the Agriculture Department expressed its disappointment with the decision.

“While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, U.S.D.A. remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children,” the department said in the statement.

Food companies including ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and makers of frozen pizza like Schwan argued that the proposed rules would raise the cost of meals and require food that many children would throw away.

The companies called the Congressional response reasonable, adding that the Agriculture Department went too far in trying to improve nutrition in school lunches.

“This is an important step for the school districts, parents and taxpayers who would shoulder the burden of U.S.D.A.’s proposed $6.8 billion school meal regulation that will not increase the delivery of key nutrients,” said John Keeling, executive vice president and chief executive of the National Potato Council.

The Agriculture Department had estimated that the proposal would have cost about $6.8 billion over the next five years, adding about 14 cents a meal to the cost of a school lunch.

Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, said the proposed rules simply did not make sense, especially when it came to pizza.

The industry backs the current rules which say that about a quarter-cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza can count as a vegetable serving. The Agriculture Department proposal would have required that schools serve more tomato paste per piece of pizza to get a vegetable credit, an idea the industry thought would make pizza unappetizing.

The department said the change would have simply brought tomato paste in line with the way other fruit pastes and purees were credited in school meals.

Nutrition experts called the action by Congress a setback for improving the nutritional standards in school lunches and addressing childhood obesity.

“It’s a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children’s health,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit research group. “At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting U.S.D.A. and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them.”

A version of this article appeared in print on November 16, 2011, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches.

Federal Nutrition Guidelines

As part of the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Child Nutrition Reauthorization), new standards for the federal school meals program are being developed.  Proposed regulations were released over the winter and yesterday was the final day to submit written comment.  Here’s what HFH submitted:

April 13, 2011

Julie Brewer

Chief, Policy and Program Development Branch, Child Nutrition Division

Food and Nutrition Service, Department of Agriculture

3101 Park Center Drive, Room 640

Alexandria, Virginia 22302–1594

Docket ID: FNS-2007-0038-0001

Re:  Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program

Dear Ms. Brewer:

The Worcester Food and Active Living Policy Council is working  is working to support a healthy Worcester community by increasing healthy food access as part of a healthy, just food system and active community environment.  The council is comprised of many organizations, agencies, institutions as well as passionate community residents.

One of the top priorities of council is the successful implementation of state and federal school nutrition legislation, including adoption of regulations pursuant to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

We work directly with our districts food service director, who has been an incredible partner in increasing the nutritious quality of school meals, as well as increasing the amount of locally grown produce that is part of the meal.  We have also worked with many community and statewide partners in passing statewide legislation that creates nutrition standards for competitive foods.  We know that positive changes are possible because we’ve seen them firsthand in schools across the state.

The Worcester Food and Active Living Policy Council strongly supports the proposed rule for nutrition standards for the school meal programs, although we would recommend stronger rules on certain topics as detailed below. Given the high obesity rates among children and the important role school meals play in children’s diet, once implemented, these updated standards will make an important contribution to the improved the long-term health of millions of children across the country.  We respectfully offer the following comments regarding the proposed rule.

Fruits and vegetables

We support USDA’s proposal to increase the number of servings and the variety of fruits and vegetables. The proposal to require minimum and/or maximum servings of certain vegetable subgroups and allowing fruit juice to only provide up to one-half of the daily fruit requirement will improve the variety of vegetables offered and consumed by students.

We urge you to go further and not allow schools to deep-fry any foods, including vegetables.

Whole grains

We support the proposal to increase the requirement for whole grains in the school lunch and breakfast programs.


We applaud USDA for identifying sodium reduction in school meals as a key objective and support USDA’s plan to significantly reduce sodium in the school meal programs over the next 10 years. We also agree with the intermediate targets proposed.

We also urge the USDA to help schools face the challenge of reducing sodium by working with State Agencies to ensure schools in every state have full access to the lower-sodium USDA Foods on the foods available list and by working with the food industry to reduce sodium in foods commonly served in schools.

Added Sugars

Added sugars provide additional calories with few nutrients and contribute to overweight and obesity. Yet, added sugars limits are not required in the proposed rule.  We recommend that USDA address added sugars in the school meal programs by focusing on the foods that are the largest contributors to added sugar intake and that are common components of school meals: grain-based desserts, dairy-based desserts, ready-to-eat cereals, and flavored milk.

We urge USDA to go further and limit the number and portion sizes of grain-based and dairy-based desserts served over the course of the week and to limit sugar content in breakfast cereal.


We agree with USDA’s proposal for calorie minimum and maximum levels in the school meal programs.  The ranges support the need to balance between providing good nutrition, addressing concerns about childhood obesity, and addressing food insecurity.  They also will support the school meal programs in modeling appropriate portion sizes and calorie levels.

Saturated and Trans Fats

We support the proposal to continue the current standard of less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.. We also support the proposed requirement to minimize trans fat.

Fluid Milk

We strongly support the proposed requirement that only low-fat unflavored and fat-free unflavored and flavored milk be allowed.  This standard is consistent with the recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  USDA should also provide technical assistance to schools to procure flavored milk that contains low amounts of added sugars.

Meat/Meat Alternates

We support the emphasis on lower sodium lean meats and meat alternates as a way to help schools reduce saturated fats and sodium. We are concerned, however, that a daily meat requirement may increase consumption of saturated fat and sodium, as a one-ounce daily minimum would often have to be augmented with additional meat/meat alternate to make a reasonable portion.  Applying a weekly requirement, without daily minimums, may help to decrease costs and increase menu planning flexibility.

Healthier USDA food offerings and recipes

While we are very pleased that USDA currently provides high fiber options such as whole wheat pasta and brown rice through the USDA Foods program, we encourage you to expand your offerings to include more whole grain, low fat, high fiber, low sugar, and low sodium items. This will help school nutrition directors meet the proposed guidelines while keeping food costs within the federal reimbursement. Once schools are required to offer 100% whole grain rich products, it is advisable that USDA discontinue providing all non-whole grain rich products. Finally, providing recipes that utilize the healthiest commodity options will enable food service directors to utilize them more effectively.

Technical Assistance and Service Equipment

We support the technical assistance topics proposed in the rule, such as updating USDA menu planning resources, providing guidance materials on fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, updating the Child Nutrition Database, and participation in public forums.

We are pleased that USDA has provided resources for school food service equipment for the first time in over two decades. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that schools may need assistance purchasing equipment to meet the new requirements, such as steamers and microwave ovens to replace deep fryers and fruit and vegetable preparation sinks.

We urge USDA to begin intensive training and technical assistance efforts to help schools implement the updated school meal standards as soon as possible.

Recognizing that healthy food only benefits children if they eat it, we suggest that Food and Nutrition Services include guidance on food presentation, marketing, and nutrition education, as these are essential for ensuring that students actually consume the nutritious items offered. This could include providing schools with examples of strategies to engage students, such as student advisory councils, student taste tests, or voting for menu options.

We also recommend that Food and Nutrition Services provide strategies for good financial management to offset any added food costs such as inventory management, portion control, commodity utilization, advanced menu planning, seasonal purchasing, and collaborative purchasing.


We support the proposed implementation schedule to begin full implementation of the new meal standard in the school year 2012-2013, with the whole grain requirements and sodium reduction targets phased in over time. It’s time for all school children to have access to healthier school meals every day.

Thank you for your effort to improve the health of schools and students across the nation, and thank you for your consideration of our recommendations.



Jean McMurray, Co-Chair
Executive Director
Worcester County Food Bank
Dennis Irish, Co-Chair
Vice President
Government and Community Relations
Vanguard Health Systems/Saint Vincent Hospital
Steve Fisher
Executive Director
Regional Environmental Council
Ann Flynn
Director of Community Impact
United Way of Central MA
Walter Spence
Executive Director
Jeremiah’s Inn
Paulette LaCoste
Director of Family and Community Development
Pernet Family Health Service
Toni Maguire
President and CEO
Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center
Lynne Man
Resident, Lunenburg, MA
Hunger-Free & Healthy Project
Worcester, MA
Mayor Joseph O’Brien
City of Worcester, MA

MA School Nutrition Guidelines

Recently, the Department of Public Health released the proposed nutrition standards for the School Nutrition Bill (passed in 2010).  These regulations would do more than any other state in ensuring that our children are provided the safest most nutritious food possible while in school.  Nearly 1 million Massachusetts children will be affected by this every day and we know the potential change these regulations can make in the food environment of their schools.

Generally, we feel that the proposed DPH standards combine common sense with the best science and will protect student’s health.  We see a few ways the standards could be strengthened, and yet we also understand that there is some opposition to pieces of the standards.  In developing written testimony in support of the standards, we’ve spoken with partners such as the Worcester Public Schools, School Committee members and parents, the Mass Public Health Association and partners in the Act FRESH Campaign from across the state.  We wanted to share with all of you some of our thoughts, as well as some of the testimony from other folks in the field.

We agreed with many school food advocates that the sugar content allowed in snacks and desserts should be modified so that total sugar may not exceed 20% of calories and 9g sugar per portion as served, as opposed to the 35%  proposed in the regulations.  We feel that nutrient-dense yogurt may exceed these limits, but may not exceed 20g of sugar per serving.  In addition, we feel that when it comes to whole grains, we urge DPH to specify the amount of whole grains a grain-based product must contain.  The Mass Public Health Association, for instance, recommends 50% whole grains by weight.

Steve Miller,  Executive Director of the Healthy Weight Initiation at the Harvard School of Public Health, Dept. of Nutrition issued some strong feedback to DPH regarding removing ambiguity from the standards:

Fiber is an essential part of any diet.  While several of the proposed regulations have fiber content implications, it isn’t spelled out.  A statement should be added that “grain-based food items must contain a minimum of 2g per serving of dietary fiber. All foods must include at least one gram of fiber per 10 grams of carbohydrates, except for dairy products.”

It is good that the proposed regulations will apply to “competitive foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools.”  But this still leaves too much room for interpretation and wiggling.  It would be better if the regulations explicitly stated that they apply to “celebrations, fund-raisers, and any other event that takes place at any time on school property or is under the supervision of school employees.”  Allowing unhealthy food to be used as a “treat” sends a very powerful – and wrong – message about its desirability.  And, too often, the growing number of our children with diabetes are forced to isolate themselves from the party or, even worse, succumb to temptation and sneak over to eat some of the junk.

We also know that there is concern regarding the removal of 10 oz. milks and eliminating flavored milk.  For example, Tracy Novick, parent and School Committee member in Worcester submitted testimony stating,

The sale of milk in 10 ounce bottles at our secondary schools in Worcester gives children who are still growing much-needed amounts of calcium, riboflavin, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D, and B12. Children ages 12 and over need to drink more than 8 ounces of fluid midday… A child who chooses to bring lunch from home should have the same choices available as the child who purchases the entire school lunch. Flavored milk should be as available to the child bringing a sandwich from home as it is to the child purchasing lunch from school.Likewise, the eventual ban on flavored milk makes little sense. Chocolate or other flavored milk, properly done (without high fructose corn syrup, for example) is not the enemy. As a creative (and not high-sugar) way of getting children to increase their consumption of milk, it fills gaps recently identified by the Dietary Guidelines. We should be encouraging milk consumption.

We know others in the state, however, that feel strongly that flavored milk should be phased out and is an unnecessary source of sugar.  Many say that if children and youth have only plain milk, they will drink it.

Here in Worcester our public schools have done an amazing job in delivering school meals that are healthy, nutritious, and source locally grown and produced foods as much as possible.  And because of the absence of “a la carte” foods and vending machines, we are fortunate to be one step ahead in providing a healthy school food environment.  We feel that these regulations will make permanent the successes the schools have already had, as well as raise the bar even higher on certain aspects of school nutrition.

If you wish to submit your own testimony (as a resident/ parent/ organization) please send it before April 8th to:  DPH requests that electronic testimony be submitted as an attached Word document or as text within the body of an email and that “Nutrition Standards” be in the subject line.  All submissions should include the sender’s full name and address.  DPH will post all electronic testimony that complies with these instructions on its website.


School Lunch Guidelines Proposed

With the recent passage and signing of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthoriazation, or the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, we will start to see some proposals for school meals changes, which is one piece of the bill.  In the recently proposed guidelines:

  • School meals would have calorie limits.
  • Salt would be cut by half over 10 years.
  • Most trans fats would be banned.
  • More fruits and vegetables would be included in each meal.
  • Only low-fat or nonfat milk would be served.
  • Meals would see increases in the amount of whole grains and eventually will include only whole grains.
  • Breakfast would include both grain and protein, not one or the other.
  • Right now these guidelines are only proposed and could take some time before they are implemented.  The good news for Worcester – we’re ahead of the curve!  School Nutrition Director Donna Lombardi uses fresh produce (local when in season!), whole grains, low-fat True Moo milk (no high fructose corn syrup!), and is trans fat free. 

    Of course the bill contains more than just new regulations around school food – for a great synopsis see the summary put together by Food Research and Action Center.  Here in Worcester we’ll be going through the legislation to see what it means for us here in the community so that we can be aware of any changes or funding opportunities.

    For more information on the school lunch guidelines, see this article by Steven Reinberg.