The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the US Department of Agriculture to update nutrition standards for the national school breakfast and lunch programs, including more fruits and vegetables, calorie targets and a three-tiered step-down of sodium limits. The third sodium target is due to take effect in July 2022, although school districts can obtain waivers for meeting the current, or second, target now because of the challenges brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Manufacturers have streamlined their inventory,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association (SNA). “We’re hearing a lot about driver shortages, worker shortages and the first thing to go are some of these specialty items.”

Specialty items include the whole grain and lower sodium choices that schools need to meet their nutritional guidelines. Shortages also have led to fewer choices for students.

“Schools are going to make sure kids get fed, but they’re having to educate their parents that there aren’t going to be as many menu choices as there used to be, and there are going to be some challenges until the supply chain issues are worked out,” Ms. Pratt-Heavner said.

She emphasized that SNA members are sympathetic to the problems facing bakers as members are struggling to maintain staffing levels and obtain supplies they need.

SNA is urging the federal government to push back the sodium reduction levels. The group wants to maintain the first target for now, implement target two in July 2024 and eliminate the third target because the group said it’s too restrictive.

“Schools are going to need more time to get there while still maintaining student participation,” Ms. Pratt-Heavner said.

Once the pandemic starts to wane and supply chain issues improve, she is hoping that the baking industry will be able to return to providing as many appealing low-sodium, whole grain items as possible.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sodium Reduction, click here.