Today, USDA proposed the establishment of minimum national professional standards and training requirements for school nutrition professionals who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
The standards, another key provision of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), aim to institute education and certification standards for school nutrition professionals. These new standards will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare and purchase healthy products to create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals.
As a former school nutrition director I can tell you that school nutrition professionals across the country are pleased with the new meal patterns established by the HHFKA, which requires schools to prepare healthier meals for 32 million children each day. Schools are at the forefront of national efforts to improve nutrition and reduce obesity in our Nation’s children.
Since the start of the 2012-2013 School Year, I have visited dozens of schools and witnessed students embracing healthier meal options as schools successfully implement the latest lunch, breakfast and snack standards. In fact, our most our most recent data show that roughly 90 percent of schools are reporting that they are meeting the new standards, a 12 percent increase from June 2013.
Many school nutrition professionals already complete annual training that is similar to what we are recommending; for others, the standards will be new. These proposed standards will ensure that all school nutrition professionals meet the same national requirements as they prepare healthy meals served in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
The professional standards proposed by USDA will focus on training opportunities and strengthen the school nutrition profession.
This proposal would:
- Create minimum hiring standards for school food authority directors based on a school district’s size;
- Establish minimum hiring standards for State directors of school nutrition and State distributing agencies; and
- Require minimum annual training for all new and current school nutrition professionals.
School nutrition professionals, educators, and members of the nutrition community from around the country have voiced their support for strengthening school meals programs by setting professional standards.
We received a tremendous amount of feedback from State agencies, school districts, and several professional associations as we developed the proposed standards; we now look forward to receiving additional comments that may help us fine tune these standards to ensure the greatest benefit.
USDA is committed to working closely with school nutrition directors, managers and staff to meet the proposed requirements once they are in place. Our Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will continue collaborating with partners to identify free and low-cost training at locations that are convenient and easily accessible. FNS will also be working with our partners to develop an easily accessible national database that will list available trainings by State.
As our nation continues to fight childhood obesity, we commend our schools for making so much progress in offering healthier options during the school day. Many of our kids spend the majority of their waking hours each day in school, and consume half their daily calories from school meals.
By enhancing school nutrition careers, we are giving our hard-working and caring professionals the tools and training needed to create a healthy school environment where our children are healthy, engaged, and productive learners.