Nutrition programs get new web-based payment system and new healthy food regs

Sponsors of state and federal nutrition programs will find their jobs have become a lot easier thanks to installation of a new web-based Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS) by the Department of Education.

The new system, which went live August 25, will allow sponsors to submit and receive meal reimbursement claims more accurately and timely. Once a district has keyed in their applicationor renewal information into the system, the time required for approval will be significantly reduced.

For the state, staff time will also be freed up because district paper work will already be in the system.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack OConnell said that the new system will conservatively save more than 60,000 pieces of paper statewide with automation of the application component of the School Meal Programs.

Schools are already hard pressed by a lack of a state budget and a tight economy, OConnell said. CNIPS will help schools save time, paper, and increase efficiency so they can dedicate more time and resources to providing quality meals to students, including those children who qualify for free and reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches.

Expectations are that the system will soon be offered to sponsors of other nutrition programs and when implemented will include the National School Lunch and Breakfast; Food Distribution; Special Milk, Child and Adult Care Food; and Summer Food Service programs.

Phyllis Bramson-Paul, director of the Nutrition Service Division, said that after some training most have found the system intuitive and easy to use. She noted that a number of districts enthusiastically joined the system on the first weekend it was electronically available, but there are some districts who have yet to log-in.

In a related development, the department has also announced that new state regulations aimed at clarifying new laws governing what foods and beverages can be sold on school grounds.

The regulations, which have gone into effect this month, were prompted from field reports of ambiguities in the laws that made compliance difficult.

Pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California adopted some of the nations highest standards for healthy food and beverage options for sale on campus. The standards limit fat content, sugar, saturated fat and overall calories among other restrictions. Schools are also limited on the types of beverages to include water, milk, some juices and electrolyte replacement drinks.

Elementary and middle/junior high schools were required to meet the standards by July 1, 2007. High Schools are being phased in, with at least 50 percent of beverages complying with the standards by July 1, 2007, and all beverages complying by July 1, 2009.

The new regulations clarified the state law by:

1.Defining what constitutes an entrée at middle and high school campuses, because entrees can contain higher calories than foods not meeting this designation.

2.Clarifying that an entrée must also contain certain food groups. This provides a succinct definition, making it easier for schools to follow and comply.

3.Specifying that, while the law exempts fruit and nuts from the nutrition restrictions on fat, sugar, and calories, the restrictions are not waived for fruit or nuts containing added sugar or fat (such as chocolate covered raisins or nuts).

4.Limiting the amount of sugar contained in milk in order to avoid highly sweetened milks from being sold.

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