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What You Need to Know: Implementing School Nutrition Regulations for CTE Part I


April 18, 2014


What You Need to Know: Implementing School Nutrition Regulations for CTE

New rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—authorized under the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010—will require all foods sold in schools to meet strict nutritional standards beginning in the 2014-15 school year. Though intended by Congress to target snack foods sold in vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores, these regulations will impact many students in CTE programs that operate school-based enterprises (SBE), including student-run cafés, bakeries and catering businesses. Since this is the first time that national nutritional standards will be mandated for these types of foods sold in schools, we want to help address the questions and concerns that CTE educators have about the implementation of these federal regulations. In this two-part series on the CTE Policy Watch blog, we will discuss some of the essential things you need to know to be prepared for these new rules.

How are the standards applied?

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act says that “the nutrition standards shall apply to all foods sold— outside the school meal programs; on the school campus; and at any time during the school day.” According to the USDA, the school campus includes all areas of the property under the jurisdiction of the school that are accessible to students during the school day. The school day is the period from the midnight before, to 30 minutes after the end of the official school day. These regulations apply specifically to “competitive foods,” which are any foods sold to students in schools other than the federally reimbursed school lunch and breakfast. Postsecondary intuitions are not affected by these regulations—only secondary. The new rules will officially go into effect on July 1, 2014, so most programs will need to be in compliance with the regulations beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

How will CTE programs be affected?  

If your program operates an SBE that sells food only to faculty, staff or other non-students, and/or the SBE operates outside the school day and campus parameters, then your program will be unaffected. If your SBE sells food items to students on the school campus during the school day, then your program will have to comply with the regulations and meet the nutritional standards established by the USDA. Failing to implement the nutritional standards could jeopardize federal reimbursements for free-or reduced-cost meals for low-income students at your school. Even if your school does not receive federal reimbursements, failing to comply could endanger funds for other schools in your district.  It is important that you contact your district administration if there is any uncertainty.

What are the nutritional standards?  

According to the USDA, these are science-based nutrition guidelines that draw on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and existing voluntary standards that have already been implemented by a number of states and school districts. The nutritional standards include requirements for whole grain, vegetable, fruit and protein content as well as restrictions on fat, sugar and sodium. The USDA has produced an summary chart to outline the new standards.

While some CTE programs will find it relatively easy to adapt to the new standards and sell healthier options to students, others may find it difficult or unmanageable to meet these new standards, particularly in culinary-arts focused programs with a wide variety of instructional standards to meet. There are a limited number of exemptions and special waivers that may provide some regulatory relief for CTE programs. We will examine these options in more detail in our next post on the CTE Policy Watch blog.

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