The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced updates to school nutrition standards as they are better built from the pandemic that is giving way to schools. These actions provide support to school meal program operators who provide critical nutrition to millions of children every school day.
By providing transition rules that will begin in the 2022-2023 school year (SY) and the USDA intends to implement during the 2023-2024 school year, the USDA is giving schools time to move from current pandemic operations to more nutritious meals. In 2022, the USDA will continue to prioritize support for schools as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic and related operational issues, ensuring that children continue to enjoy healthy meals at school. The department is also planning for the future, contacting school meal agents to implement long-term nutrition standards from SY 2024-2025, which will put children’s health at the forefront. These actions will pave the way for a stronger and more resilient school meal program.
“School nutritious meals provide American children with a foundation for a healthy and successful life,” said Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. “We applaud the heroic efforts of the schools during this pandemic to continue to serve the most nutritious meals possible to children. The standards we are setting for the next two school years will help schools move forward into the future based on tremendous progress in improving school meal nutrition.”
Vilsack added that research shows that school children receive the healthiest meals of the day at school.
The USDA updated its school feeding rules in 2012. Schools were very successful in setting standards, which had a positive impact on students ’diets. However, due to specific implementation delays and pandemic challenges, some schools may not be fully compliant with milk, whole grain and sodium standards at this time. Today’s announcement sheds light on these standards for schools for the coming school year, allowing them to gradually move from the unusual circumstances caused by the pandemic to the normal functioning of the program and meal rules in line with new food sciences as required by law.
Latest New Rules – Child Nutrition Programs: Transition Rules for Milk, Whole Grain and Sodium – establishes the following requirements starting with SY 2022-2023:
- Milk: Schools and kindergartens serving participants over the age of six may offer low-fat (1%) flavored milk in addition to low-fat flavored milk and low-fat or low-fat flavored milk;
- Whole Cereals: At least 80% of the grains served at school lunch and breakfast each week must be very rich; and
- Sodium: The weekly sodium limit for school lunches and breakfasts will be maintained at the current level for the 2022-2023 school year. For the school lunch alone, the limit will be reduced by 10% for the 2023-2024 school year. This is in line with the US Food and Drug Administration’s recent policy guidelines for voluntary reduction of sodium in processed, packaged and prepared foods in the United States.
All other food regulations, including fruit and vegetable requirements, will be the same as in 2012.
In planning for the future, the USDA intends to issue a proposed regulation in the fall of 2022 that updates long-term food standards. The USDA needs to update school nutrition standards based on the recommendations of the latest dietary guidelines for Americans. Thus, the USDA will prioritize seeking input from schools, industry, and others to inform the process. The department expects schools to complete this rule in a timely manner for planning for the 2024-2025 school year.
“These transitional rules are a step in a longer-term strategy for inclusion in school meal programs as a key part of improving children’s health. In the coming months and years, the USDA will work with its school meal partners to develop the next version of nutrition requirements. we need to find the right balance between the standards that give them the best choice for a healthy one based on the latest science of nutrition, and make sure that these standards are practical, built to last, and work for everyone, ”Vilsack said.
“The creativity of schools and other local partners who understand what works best in practice will be key as we grow into this new generation of school food. We are eager to hear and learn from their ideas, because in terms of the health and well-being of our nation’s children, we must always pursue the highest goal and strive for the best, ”Vilsack added.
For more information on school meals and the future regulatory process, browse these resources:
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