Last Friday (Feb. 3), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is proposing significant changes to standards governing school meals. The changes are aimed at making the meals healthier, with a particular emphasis on reducing sugar and salt.
A 60-day public comment period on the proposal starts tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb.7). The proposed changes are the product of a multiyear effort, and were developed with input from school nutrition professionals, public health experts, industry and parents, according to a USDA statement.
Last year, USDA issued transitional nutrition standards for School Years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 to give schools clear guidance after requirements were temporarily loosened during the pandemic. This also gave the Food and Nutrition Service, also known as FNS, time to develop the updated standards.
With its latest announcement, the FNS is proposing a gradual, multi-year approach to implementing updates to the nutrition standards aimed at supporting healthy kids. These include:
- Limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu;
- Allowing flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars;
- Incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years; and
- Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.
In some of these areas, the FNS proposes different options and requests input on which would best achieve the goal of improving child health while also being practical and realistic to implement.
The FNS encourages all interested parties to comment on the proposed school meal standards rule during the 60-day comment period that begins February 7, 2023.