The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today issued a broad range of flexibilities to allow school meal programs and childcare institutions across the country to return to serving healthy meals in fall 2021 as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to reopen schools safely. Several meal service flexibilities that enable social distancing are now extended through June 30, 2022. The waivers continue the Administration’s commitment to provide safe, healthy meals free of charge to children as the pandemic continues to threaten the food and nutrition security of our most vulnerable.
“USDA will remain relentless in ensuring our nation’s children get the critical nutrition they need,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “States and districts wanted waivers extended to plan for safe reopening in the fall. USDA answered the call to help America’s schools and childcare institutions serve high quality meals while being responsive to their local needs as children safely return to their regular routines. This action also increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators so they can serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents and schools.”
A recent study from Tufts University found that in 2018, schools were the single healthiest source of U.S. food consumed across a sample of children and adults. The 2018 study found that diet quality for foods from schools improved significantly from a similar study conducted in 2003-2004.
Schools nationwide will be allowed to serve meals through USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO), which is typically only available during the summer months. This option maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs – including a strong emphasis on providing fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, whole grains, and sensible calorie levels, while allowing schools to serve free meals to all children. In addition, schools that choose this option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal they serve, which will support them in serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges. This option also affords schools the financial flexibility to further customize their meal service design to fit their local needs.