The USDA released new school nutrition standards to give schools a clear path forward as they recover from the pandemic. The transition standards will begin in the 2022-23 school year and continue through 2023-24, giving schools time to transition from current pandemic operations to more nutritious meals.
In 2022, the USDA will continue to prioritize supporting schools as they navigate the challenges of the pandemic and related operational issues while ensuring children continue to enjoy healthy school meals. The department is also planning for the future by engaging with school meals stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards from SY 2024-2025 that will be achievable and put children’s health first.
“Nutritious school lunches give America’s children the foundation for a healthy and successful life,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We salute the heroic efforts of schools throughout the challenges of this pandemic to continue serving children the most nutritious meals possible. The standards we are putting in place for the next two school years will help schools transition to a future that builds on the tremendous progress they have made in improving school meal nutrition over the past decade.”
Vilsack added that research shows school kids get their healthiest meals of the day at school.
The USDA previously updated the School Nutrition Standards in 2012. Schools have been largely successful in implementing the standards, which have had a proven positive impact on student nutrition. However, due to specific implementation delays and pandemic-related challenges, some schools may not be ready to fully meet the standards for milk, whole grains and sodium at this time. The announcement gives schools clarity on these standards for future school years, allowing them to gradually transition from the extraordinary circumstances caused by the pandemic to normal program operations and meal standards that are in line with the latest nutritional science, as required by law.
The new Final Rule – Infant Nutrition Programs: Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains and Sodium – establishes the following requirements as of SY 2022-2023:
- Milk:Schools and child care providers serving participants age six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to flavored skim milk and unflavored skim or low-fat milk .
- Whole grains:At least 80% of the cereals served each week for lunch and breakfast at school must be rich in whole grains.
- Sodium:The weekly sodium limit for lunch and breakfast at school will remain at the current level during the 2022-2023 school year. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit during the 2023-2024 school year. This aligns with recently released guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that set voluntary sodium reduction goals for processed, packaged, and prepared foods in the United States.
All other nutrition standards, including fruit and vegetable requirements, will remain the same as the 2012 standards.
Planning for the future, the USDA intends to release a proposed rule in the fall of 2022 that moves toward updating long-term nutrition standards. The USDA is required to update school nutrition standards based on recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In doing so, USDA will prioritize seeking input from schools, industry, and other stakeholders to inform the process. The department expects to finalize this rule in time for schools to plan for the 2024-25 school year.
“These transitional standards are the first step in a longer-term strategy to build on school meals programs as a crucial part of improving children’s health. Over the months and years years to come, the USDA will work closely with its school lunch partners to develop the next iteration of nutritional requirements. We must strike the right balance between standards that give our children the best chance of a healthy future. health based on the latest nutritional science, and making sure 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 essential as we grow into this new generation of school meals. We look forward to listening and learning from their ideas because, when it comes to health and wellness, being children of our nation, we must always aim high and strive for the best.”
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