Online Program

Changing how school districts use USDA foods: What are the policy opportunities?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 : 11:30 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

Maria Boyle, MS, RD, Samuels & Associates, Oakland, CA
Soledad Drago-Ferguson, MPH, ., Samuels & Associates, Oakland, CA
Markell Lewis, MPH, ., California Food Policy Advocates, Oakland, CA
Ellen Braff-Guajardo, JD, MEd, California Food Policy Advocates, Oakland, CA
Gail Woodward-Lopez, MPH, RD, Atkins Center for Weight and Health, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Janice Kao, MPH, Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Berkeley, CA
Pat Crawford, DrPH, RD, UC Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, ANR, Berkeley, CA
Sallie Yoshida, DrPH, RD, The Sarah Samuels Center for Public Health Research & Evaluation, Oakland, CA
School meal programs feed approximately half of school children in the US, and thus play an important role in student nutrition. In addition to cash reimbursements, schools receive USDA Foods (formerly “commodities”), which make up one-fifth of food used in school meals; their nutritional contribution to these meals is significant. While USDA Foods can be used as minimally processed ingredients in meals, schools divert over half of USDA Foods to processors, often resulting in less healthy heat-and-serve entrees. Little is known about the policies that influence how USDA Foods are used in school meals.

Nineteen stakeholder interviews were conducted to determine challenges, facilitators and policy opportunities to using USDA Foods as minimally processed ingredients in school meals. Stakeholders included national and state program administrators, processors, district food service directors and school nutrition advocates. Responses were entered into a database software and analyzed for common themes across stakeholders.

Findings indicated a need for policies to: increase state and federal technical assistance and training to schools; simplify and streamline USDA Foods administrative program requirements; provide incentives to use minimally processed USDA Foods; improve communication between schools and federal/state agencies; and help address school-level barriers, such as labor, equipment or facilities costs, to using minimally processed USDA Foods in school meals.

Schools need support at the district, state and federal levels in order to reduce meal program dependence on highly processed entrees. Policy opportunities exist that can help schools change how they use USDA Foods and address the barriers to making these changes

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe stakeholder perspectives on the processing of USDA foods. Explain at least two policy opportunities to improve the healthfulness of school meals. List three challenges and facilitators associated with using USDA foods in school meals.

Keyword(s): Nutrition, School Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: This work was conducted with staff from the Samuels Center for which I provided oversight on all aspects of this research.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.