Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Overview: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced updated school nutrition standards for milk offerings, whole grains, and sodium content.
Location: United States schools
Population: 30 million children consuming school meals
Food policy category: Nutrition
Program goals: To increase the nutritional quality of school meals.
How it works: The new transitional standards are designed to help schools move from their current pandemic operations to start providing more nutritious meals. The transitional standards will be implemented for the 2022-2023 school year and continue through 2023-2024, with more long-term standards to be established for 2024-2025 and beyond.
The updated nutrition standards include the following:
- Schools and child care providers serving meals to children ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk.
- Over the course of each school week, 80 percent of grains served in school breakfasts and lunches must be whole grain-rich (contain more than 50 percent whole grains), as defined here.
- Weekly sodium limits will remain at current targets for school year 2022-2023. Beginning in 2023-2024, school lunch sodium limits will decrease by ten percent.
- Fruit and vegetable requirements will remain the same as the 2012 guidelines.
Progress to date: Updated school nutrition standards were first proposed in November 2020, and the finalized updates were announced on February 4, 2022. In the fall of 2022, USDA will propose long-term standards to be implemented beginning in 2024-2025.
Why it is important: School meal standards were updated in 2012 to align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some school meal regulations were waived so that schools could safely continue providing meals for students. The transitional standards will help schools get back to their pre-pandemic standards of nutrition and prepare to align with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
More than 30 million children take advantage of school meals, and for many of these children, school meals provide half their daily food intake on school days and are their healthiest meals of the day. Nutritious school meals are important for students’ physical and mental health and academic achievement, and the nutrition standards set by USDA have been shown to improve the meal offerings provided by schools.
Program/Policy initiated: The new standards will go into effect on July 1, 2022.
Point of contact: USDA Food and Nutrition Service Press Inquiries
Similar practices: The school nutrition standards were last updated in 2018.
Evaluation: The transitional standards have not yet been evaluated as they have not yet gone into effect.
- FDA Sodium Reduction Efforts Underscored in USDA’s Transitional Nutrition Standards for School Meals (US Food and Drug Administration)
- NYC Launches Vegan Fridays at Schools as USDA Announces New Nutrition Standards (ABC News)
- School Lunch Menus to Get Shakeup with New USDA Rule (Washington Post)
- School Nutrition Standards (School Nutrition Association)
- USDA, FDA Urged to Help Americans Limit Added Sugars in Schools, Restaurants in 2 Petitions (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
- 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines for Americans)
- Benefits of School Lunch (Food Research & Action Center)
- Building Back Better with School Meals (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Child Nutrition Programs: Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Child Nutrition Programs: Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Final Rule (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 (Dietary Guidelines for Americans)
- Final Rule: Child Nutrition Program Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Final Rule: Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Grain Requirements for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Research Shows that the School Nutrition Standards Improve the School Nutrition Environment and Student Outcomes (Food Research & Action Center)
- Sodium Targets in the National School Lunch Program (School Nutrition Association)
- Ten Reasons to Build Back Even Better with School Meals! (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- The Road Ahead: Building Back Better with School Meals (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains and Sodium – Final Rule (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)
- USDA Helps Schools Build Back Better, Issues Transitional Nutrition Standards for Coming School Years (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)