This past December, President Obama signed into law the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (Act). Among other initiatives, the Act gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, “a la carte” lunch lines and school stores. As part of the new meal pattern requirements, it is expected that schools will be required to serve meals with increased portions of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and limited sodium and calories. The final meal pattern requirements are projected to be released in 2012.

School nutrition programs that comply with the final updated meal pattern requirements will be eligible to receive an additional six cents per meal in reimbursement. This additional funding is the first significant reimbursement rate increase in more than 30 years.

Additionally, beginning in School Year 2011-2012, school nutrition programs will be required to move toward charging paid meal category students at a price that is on average equal to the difference between free meal reimbursement and paid meal reimbursement. The Act requires schools that charge less than this amount to gradually increase their prices over time until they meet the requirements. Alternatively, school nutrition programs may cover the difference with non-federal funds instead of raising paid meal prices. The Act also makes it easier for more students to qualify for free lunches by directly certifying students using Medicaid data and by diminishing paperwork requirements.

The Act further requires the USDA to develop minimum qualification standards for school food service personnel, including education, training and certification requirements for all school food service directors. The regulations setting forth these new professional standards are expected to be finalized in 2013. We will continue to monitor the USDA’s implementation of the Act, including its development of the new meal pattern requirements and professional standards.