Healthier school meals rules are looming. Here is what they look like

Reducing salt and sugar across school menus is the leading goal of new school nutrition standards that may soon be served up in cafeterias.

School administrators should be preparing now for a new set of school nutrition standards they may have to serve up in cafeterias over the next five years.

Reducing salt and sugar across school menus a the leading goal of the USDA’s latest proposal, which includes:

  1. Limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu
  2. Incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years
  3. Allowing flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars
  4. Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products

“Many children aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and diet-related diseases are on the rise,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals in a day for most kids.”

The new standards are based on the latest nutrition science and targeted at a few specific areas of school meal service, Vilsack says. For example, the sugar content of school breakfasts was a top concern that the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service heard during outreach with parents, teachers, and health professionals. However, meal providers said they needed time to develop new food products while school administrators want to give students time to adjust to the new foods.

USDA has put $100 million behind its Healthy Meals Incentives initiative, which includes grants for farm-to-school programs and food service equipment. Small and rural districts are eligible for $150,000 Action for Healthy Kids grants to make school meals more nutritious. The agency has also launched an additional $17 million in Action for Healthy Kids grants “to identify, celebrate, and showcase schools implementing successful and creative strategies for serving healthy, appealing meals.”

District leaders, educators, and others can comment on the proposed school meal standards for 60 days starting Feb. 7.

“USDA understands that thoughtful implementation of the updates will take time and teamwork,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “We’re proposing these changes now to build in plenty of time for planning and collaboration with all of our school nutrition partners.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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