WASHINGTON – The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services is offering schools flexibility in menu planning to address challenges in providing the daily minimum quantities for meats and meat alternatives and grains.

In a Dec. 7 memo from Cynthia Long, director of the Child Nutrition Division, acknowledged operational challenges in meeting the requirements for grains and meat and meat alternatives, particularly in schools with multiple menu offerings and multiple serving lines. Some School Food Authorities (SFAs) struggled to offer meat/meat alternatives in different sizes, such as 3-oz. and 1-oz. servings, on the same day and stay within weekly ranges.

“Additionally, as with grains, SFAs have reported that some of the meat/meat alternate products used frequently are not yet available from suppliers in a useful range of sizes,” according to the memo.

“Given the complexity of calculating the grains and meats/meat alternates components, however, and to allow for more time for suppliers to more widely offer a broader array of serving options state agencies should consider any SFA compliant with the component requirements for grains and meat/meat alternates if the menu is compliant with the daily and weekly minimums for these two components, regardless of whether they have exceeded maximums for the same components.”

Additionally, the memo states that state agencies should use the new approach in assessing compliance with the weekly ranges when conducting reviews on the 25 percent of schools already certified for 2012-2013.

“There is no need for state agencies to reconsider or recertify any SFAs already certified as eligible to receive the 6 cent reimbursement based on previous guidance, as the previously certified menus would fit within this additional flexibility approach to assessment,” according to the memo.

The memo states that “this is a year of transition” and urged state agencies to cooperate with schools to meet the new requirements.