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USDA Proposes Professional Standards in National School Lunch, Breakfast Programs; Announces New Progress in Implementing Meal Standards

Posted by Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017

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.

The school nutrition community has expressed their support for establishing professional standards. Click to enlarge.
The school nutrition community has expressed their support for establishing professional standards. Click to enlarge.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Jose Baca
Jan 31, 2014

I feel that this has been a long time coming, as a School Food Service Professional I have always advocated training for Food Service Employees.

Sally Johnson
Jan 31, 2014

I have been in Child Nutrition Services for 17 years and it never ceases to amaze me that we can make serving a simple lunch so complicated. These new standards will cost people their jobs and will limit hiring; we have already seen participation plummet with the new Nutrition Standards; we were forced to implement the ridiculous and wastefull HACCP program and now this; we are an important part of the schools but we have now made it so complicated to manage our programs we might as well go to pre packaged boxed meals to get out of all this red tape crazy paperwork - disappointed

Jena Atkinson
Feb 03, 2014

I feel as most Food Service Directors feel that all these changes have made it difficult to maintain a good lunch program and keep participation up. I have been in the business for 32 years and am retiring at the end of this year. No one in my school district wants my position: frankly I can see why. I waited for the last 5 years of retirement and they have been very hectic, confusing and time comsuming. I used to love my job, now it is mostly a hassle and just plain confusing. I pity the person who comes to take over my position.(Unless it is someone who has already been with a District before) then, maybe they will understand what is going on. The breakfast changes are even more ridiculous. It used to be fun to cook for the kids, now it is just a chore. My staff doesn't understand all the changes either. They fight me all the time about changes. I said I did not make the rules so just please do it. Anyway. Good luck in the years to come.

Jena Atkinson
Feb 03, 2014

It is almost to the point taht the state needs to make menus for everyone, tell us what product to use and we will all be legal and have the right calories, sodium etc. Did you ever think about doing that for all of the Food Service Directors and Managers????

Vicki Simpson
Feb 03, 2014

Will this mean we might actually get paid as a professional?

Karleen Brei
Feb 03, 2014

I work in a small school district with a very tight budget. My concern is that even though the training is an allowable expense to food service, where does the money come for the training? I know 8 or 12 hours does not seem like a lot, but when you add it all together, plus the benefits, it does add up. With the additional cost of producing a lunch (though the $.06 helps it does not completely cover the increased cost of producing a meal) and the cost 2 health inspections (which could easily be combined into one to help save some time and money) the reimbursement rates are not keeping up with the additional requirements that are being mandated.

Billy Reid
Feb 03, 2014

I believe this new proposed rule is a good thing, as a Child Nutrition Director I already require every one of my staff to be Serv Safe certified. this is the food we serve to our children and the safety of the flow of the food is of the utmost importance. Having trained staff, like mine, is the key ingredient to a successful program.

John Pietravoia
Feb 03, 2014

I also believe that some form of standards need to be implemented as well. However, there are many school administrations who want somebody to just take care of food service and not have to worry about it nor really support food service and when hear the complaints from managers are now leaning to bring in food companies to run the programs and putting many dedicated food works out of jobs or having to work for the company and losing there benefits from what ever school they work for.
A federal plan should be put into place that will pay to have directors or mangers gain the training that is needed along with pay for attending classes. This way the burden would not be placed all on the school program.

Laina Fullum
Feb 03, 2014

I am a food service director and think highly of the changes, except the sodium change, but it was too much too fast and confusing. I commend USDA for taking a powerful move forward to better student food selections. It has taken a large toll on participation and finances especially in light of this highly inflationary period for the US. USDA has been absent in my opinion through this process and forced us to pave our way on our own. We have complied with all changes; however, my fears are that smaller school districts are getting hit the hardest without USDA to back them up. We already train staff annually so this too is a no brainer for us, but what about smaller districts? What I want to see from USDA is more practical piloting and testing. Sure, you can create menus for us to follow that seem reasonable, but are there products available to meet the menu in the real world? Take it to the next level. And better yet, will students eat it and will parents recognize, understand and support our efforts? Test this please. I have to think that 10 years down the road, we will all be experts at this, meanwhile, take it easy on us as we are learning and you don't have the answers that will help us.

Roxanne Rich
Feb 04, 2014

I agree with Laina Fullum, I have a small school district, we have 4 schools, all in house cooking and much of it is from scratch. Training is a good thing. I do wear many hats, Director, Manager, and help serve lunch where I need to fill our the required documents. Most of our food service and our school district has not had any cost of living raise in 5 years, The district employees are loosing benefits and so are my cooks, as jobs are replaced with less hours and benefits. Our employees are linked with my district and all classified employees get the same as our teachers. Our school District is struggling, they are broke,how ever our food service is in the black, currently. If I had to buy a few new pieces of equipment and that could change. We still make rolls and main dishes from scratch, many students would rather have processed " fast foods". I have a great staff, Lunch is hard work. I have got the meal pattern, special diets and more, and so do my employees. Just saying, as a small district, I personally am spread pretty thin. I loved the idea of feeding hungry children, The children are getting used to hearing "you need a fruit or vegetable, they do have the choice to eat it or toss it in the garbage can. I hate to admit it, as a country we are taking free choice away, and government is MANDATING more and more, it is difficult. I don't have the time to read it all and it will change the next time I read it. Is this the new America? God bless the USA.

charles damiani
Feb 04, 2014

These unfunded mandates continue and were left wondering how we got into such a huge mess.
When do we grow a backbone and stand together?
When do we start doing what we know is right for our shareholders?

Sally Parks
Feb 05, 2014

Why are they wasting time and money on developing standards whe the School Nutrition Association(SNA) already has them in place thru their Certification and Credentialing programs. Just require everyone to be SNA Certified and the standards will be met. Finding funding to cover the costs of this should be USDA's #1 priority. Food and Nutrition Departments cannot make ends meet with the mandates they already have. Thousands of front line workers across the country have, at their own expense, acquired their SNA Certification and Credentialing. They do this for the love of the job nad the love of working with the children.

K Conner
Feb 05, 2014

Another unfunded mandate. Wonderful idea but it will cost and no one has the funds. We are given .06 cents to serve fruit/veggie which cost .20 cents and they tell there will be savings elsewhere..."they" have been behind a desk in DC too long! This is another example of the politicians coming up with great ideas and then ruining things by not thinking it all the way to it's conclusion.

Rose Tate
Feb 06, 2014

In order to be labeled professionals, we,as food service employees,must take on the responsibility of elevating the standards of our employability. Training will increase our knowledge which will result in the school food service employees obtaining the status of being professionals. For over forty years, Our Mississippi Department of Education, Office of Child Nutrition has mandated training for all food service employees. All directors and managers must be certified, and re-certified every three years. Training for the certification is provided by the State of Mississippi, Office of Child Nutrition at no cost to the school districts. I am glad that my state is among the first in the area of training food service employees. All to often we are first in areas where we need to be last.

T Carter
Feb 06, 2014

Once again I am disappointed with the USDA and more unfunded mandates! Like many of the others as a 23 yr veteran Child Nutrition Director from a small district, I already require all of my staff to be Serv Safe certified.

We do a lot of cooking from scratch and do our best to follow all of the new standards even though it has caused our participation to decline greatly. Our district was Nutrient Standard and our children ate very well and our participation was much higher. Now we are expected to have additional training (that will not be funded) and we will not be paid any more and we will still be viewed as "lower" support personnel. Then the district will be forced to cut back on more employees and we will be shorter handed than we are with the same low income. This job is only for those who have a love for children and a fear that they will go hungry with out school meals. You can not do it for the money or lack of it!
Over the years I have planned to leave because of the new changes (HACCP and the new changes that will change again when it "looks and sounds" good) and adding more and more headache yet God has made it clear (for now) that I am to stay here for these precious children.
While I am not sure that I can be supportive with the Traditional Food Based lunch menus of the past, with Nutrient Standard meals "my" children ate a very balanced and healthy meal they enjoyed. I have always taught my employees that we are here for the students, now we are here doing paper trails and making the USDA and governmental desk sitters "look and sound" good, claiming we are here for the kids! Lord my God please help us and guide us in the direction You would have us to go and not the way of the upper "paper weights".

Karen Ensle
Feb 07, 2014

As an Extension professional and RD I have spent many hours educating school food service staff. I agree that this is needed and will help to improve the knowledge and skills of all our school food service employees that are dedicated to their jobs and school districts. Thank you USDA!

L Lowder
Feb 07, 2014

Training is essential to maintain the excellence we are known for. However the dust needs to settle on the new requirements before we are saddled with yet another costly and time consuming task.
We have yet to really experience any true data of the changes already made to the meal pattern. I agree we needed to tighten our belts in terms of calories etc. However we have gone from one extreme to the other. School food service DID not make the nations kids obese! We do however have an opportunity to help them experience new foods. That is rewarding.
Slow down USDA!!!! It all sounds good on paper. Perhaps you should get down in the trenches with those of us that have to implement your ideas to see the “real meal deal !”

Mike Boone
Feb 07, 2014

As a CN Director for 20+ years, I have always been a proud to have been able to run a self-sufficient program. With all the unfunded, untested mandates that District’s CN dept.’s have been subjected to in the past couple of years, I really worry about the hit to participation and the financial bottom-line. If there is a funding source for additional training for front line CN employees, I am all for it. I do have a 4 yr. BS degree in Hotel\ Restaurant admin. But I do not think that a degree is required to be a successful CN Director. A commitment to the children of your District to provide them with a nutritious, quality meal in a positive friendly environment is more valuable than a college degree. They are a lot of small districts that would never be able to hire a college grad at the salaries that they have to pay. There is always room for improvement…but if it’s not broke don’t fix it. If a student eats a breakfast & lunch every day in our cafeterias that constitutes 32% of the total meals consumed for a year. Thus 68% of the meals a child consumes are outside the CN’s control. We all know that Child obesity is a major issue in our wonderful country today. My believe is the lack of exercise\outside activities for kids is a major problem. Also when economic times are hard, where is the cheapest place for a family to eat? The answer is the un-healthiest, fast food restaurants. I’m going to step down from the” soap box” I have to go be sure that the kid has a half cup of F\V on their tray and we are only giving them 2 packs of ketchup.

jayce holstein
Feb 07, 2014

How about elevating food service assistants pay ? Working for six years ,making 8.58/hour with holdback and getting paid once a month is not cutting it.we are working harder than ever,following more rules and mandates,serving our children who will be the future leaders of this country.We are overworked and underpaid.

Dave Keck
Feb 10, 2014

The only question I have is what makes the government people think for a minute that our food service employees are not professional? They are state certified and SNA certified. I have to believe there are a bunch of Knuckle heads in Washington DC sitting behind desks trying hard to justify a job that they have not been properly trained for and could not work through a lunch hour if their life depended on it. Our Lunch Ladies work harder than any one of them.

Marie Kaszubinski
Feb 11, 2014

While I agree that we in Child Nutrition have a great opportunity to offer our students healthy choices for breakfast and lunch, I question some of those choices. While a cinnamon bun or a mini loaf of banana bread made with whole wheat flour may meet the requirements deemed healthy, have we really given them a good breakfast or just a grab and go choice. I would like to see child nutrition look past just meeting the requirements. We take a very active approach in presenting a clean, safe and friendly front of the house for our students but are frustrated with some of the requirements deemed necessary to meet unclear and wasteful standards. Being recognized outside of the cafeteria as the "lunch lady" makes me smile but being blamed for making children fat does not. I'm curious what would happen if we weighed all the 3rd graders at the end of the year and then weighed them again at the beginning of 4th grade after weeks without eating at school. Surly with a summer of exercise and homemade meals they would be more fit? Also what is the purpose of mandating an item be taken knowing full well that it will be thrown in the trash. I know there are no easy answers to these questions and I appreciate the opportunity to voice them with other food service professionals.

Joyce Gaulke
Feb 20, 2014

I agree that our Nutrition staff need to be trained but if this is going to mandatory how are the school districts that are in the red going to afford to pay for all of this. Not only are we talking of the classes, traveling expense and motel stay, we will have to look at wages, benefits. I've talked to a lot of directors who have said that they participation has gone down because of the new regulations that have taken place. We need to stop and let districts get a handle on the new regulations before we get new ones thrown at us.

Theresa Skaar
Feb 25, 2014

I agree that these guide lines have become so confusing. The paper work alone is a waste of paper. I also have been in food service for many years, and have never seen the hot lunch program fall apart like it has. The kids are bringing lunches from home. We can't keep a lunch program running if we keep telling them this is how it has to be.But the USDA keeps saying this is how it has to be. So hot lunch programs will suffer.

Melinda Faye Cole
Feb 26, 2014

I have belonged to Food & Nutrition State Programs since I was a self employed Daycare Owner and then a SNA Certificated Member for over 15 years. All of these programs offered professional growth learning classes that I have participated in over the last 21 years. All these years I have earned $ .10 an hour when employed as a full time (2.0 hours or better) worker. SNA dues,class costs,Certification fees, and national and State SNA membership fees have been paid out of this small amount I have earned, and out of pocket expenses have been great to travel and get this education.
I felt it my duty to educate my own self and children of nutritional eating habits because of my children's eating alergies and juvenile diabetes.
I feel it is a necessary program!
My son who was 22 years old with diabetes died last year from complications of bad food choices that involved to many power drinks that had a build up of potassium in his system that stopped his heart.
Had he been at home, I would have cautioned him on consuming these hipped-up drinks.
Now it is my mission to spread the word on bad food and drink choices and help children with special dietary needs.
I would like to see these standards past, but I have been wondering why the standard wage for managers is so much more than the hands one servers wages.
We in america have become manager wage heavy. It is time to give educational funds to those who would like to learn more, and educate better healthy living where it counts most, our future leaders and community contributers.
Thanks for reading this and may god lead us to do the right thing.

Deanne Pastva
Mar 13, 2014

I have worked in Child Nutrition for 11 years, and it has gotten more and more challenging to run my department in the black. I have a low free and reduced population, therefore, my district doesn't get as much funding as other districts. I agree with Jena Atkinson: It's getting to the point we need to be told which products we're allowed to use, and we'll all use the same items. In regards to the professional standards ~ I agree we need them, but most of us are Dietitians, and get the CEU's for our registration. For our staff ~ these education requirements will cause my department to go further in the red, because my department will have to pay for all the continuing education hours.

Karen Blaney
Apr 01, 2016

Our food service director refuses to train us and says we have to get the training ourselves is this true?