A new nationwide survey of 1,368 school foodservice directors from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) released last week revealed serious concerns for the upcoming school year. SNA’s Back to School 2021 Report highlights worry surrounding operational challenges, the financial strain caused by COVID-19 and achieving regulatory compliance.
Despite USDA extensions of COVID-19 waivers through school year 2021/22, the survey indicates school foodservice directors are concerned about the upcoming school year:
Concerns about pandemic meal service modifications, barriers to serving distance learners and meeting school nutrition standards are also noted.
Financial sustainability of school meal programs is a top concern for school foodservice directors. While school nutrition programs have historically operated on tight budgets, pandemic-related losses and rising food and labor costs have left many in the red.
A vast majority of respondents expressed concerns about Final Target sodium regulations coming in July 2022 and the ongoing challenge of student acceptance of whole grain rich foods, both negatively impacting student participation and further complicating the financial picture.
USDA waivers allow states to provide targeted flexibility for school meal programs struggling to meet sodium and other meal pattern mandates through school year 2021/22. Still, SNA is urging Congress and USDA to delay Target 2 mandates until July 2024, eliminate Final Target sodium limits and restore the mandate that half of all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich.
While the survey painted a worrisome picture for school year 2021/21, there are a few positive notes to mention. Survey respondents recognized a handful of benefits associated with free meal service, including: