Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Schools Seeking Religious Accommodations In Complying With Federal School Nutrition Rules

The Forward reported yesterday on the unique problems of religious accommodation in complying with the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 faced by ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. Under the Act and implementing regulations, federal assistance for a school's food program is available only if the school's menus meet specified nutritional guidelines.  Orthodox Jewish schools have encountered two issues, only one of which has been resolved so far. First, government standards limited the amount of  grain-based food that could be served.  Orthodox Jewish students needed a slice of bread in order to say the traditional Hamotzi-- the blessing over bread with which each meal is begun. That left no room for other grain-based foods. USDA officials agreed that schools could increase the amount of grain consumption, so long as it stayed within the calorie limit set out in USDA regulations.

The second issue involves the requirement to serve leafy dark-green vegetables as part of school meals. Ultra-Orthodox standards for kosher observance require special inspection of leafy vegetables to be sure that they are not insect infested. This would pose prohibitive costs on schools, and if they did not provide for inspection parents would advise their children not to eat the vegetables.  The schools are consulting with a nutritionist to attempt to find equally nutritious alternatives.

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