USDA proposes rule to allow nutritional flexibilities for school meals

The rules would allow for flavored milk, cut the amount of whole grains, and delay requirements to reduce sodium.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service proposed a rule in the Nov. 25 Federal Register that would codify “three menu planning flexibilities” established in a 2018 final rule that was vacated and remanded by Center for Science in the Public Interest v. Sonny Perdue.

“Today’s rule proposes to restore the flexibilities included in the 2018 final rule,” FNS officials wrote in a statement announcing the 2020 final rule. “Despite this procedural formality, schools do not have to change their meals, thanks to the meal pattern flexibilities USDA has already provided in all child nutrition programs through June 30, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 national emergency.”

The proposal is the latest in a number of delays to implement school meal standards established in 2012 that limited the types of milk schools were allowed to serve to low- or nonfat milk, required more whole grain-rich foods, and reduced the amount of sodium in meals.

While the flexibility applies to school meals, it has no impact on identifying the number of students served by federal school nutrition programs used in many districts to determine poverty levels for Title I eligibility and funding for schools.

Starting in SY 2021-22, the proposed rule would:

  • Allow flavored, low-fat milk as part of a reimbursable meal under the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.
  • Allow half of weekly grains in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program menus to be whole grain-rich.
  • Allow more time for gradual sodium reduction in national school meals by retaining Sodium Target 1 through the end of SY 2023-24, Target 2 in SY 2024-25, and eliminating the Final Target.

FNS is accepting comments on the final rule through Dec. 28, 2020. To comment, go to and enter docket number FNS-2020-0038.

Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.

Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix
Charles Hendrix has been writing about federal K-12 education policy, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, since 2006, and has in-depth knowledge of Capitol Hill and the federal legislative process. He is a senior editor with LRP Publications and the author of What Do I Do When® The Answer Book on Title I – Fourth Edition. He lives in South Florida with his son and their trusted chiweenie, Junior.

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