February 23, 2023

USDA proposes new nutrition standards

USDA proposes new nutrition standards

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) have proposed updates to the school nutrition standards. The proposed updates reflect the most recent 2020 Dietary Guidelines, as required by law, and build in plenty of time for planning and implementation to ensure the school meals community and the kids they serve have the best chance for long-term success. The comment period for the proposed rule, Child Nutrition Programs - Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020 DGAs, is currently open and will close on April 10, 2023.

The highlights of the changes 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 schools’ years

  • Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products

  • Encourage domestically produced foods

The first limits on added sugars would be required in the 2025-2026 school year, starting with high-sugar foods such as sweetened cereals, yogurts, and flavored milk. The plan also limits sugary grain desserts, such as muffins or doughnuts, to no more than twice a week at breakfast. By the fall of 2027, added sugars in school meals would be limited to less than 10% of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches.

The proposal also would reduce sodium in school meals by 30% by the fall of 2029. They would gradually be reduced to align with federal guidelines, which recommend Americans aged 14 and older limit sodium to about 2,300 milligrams a day, with less for younger children. Levels would drop, for instance, from an average of about 1,280 milligrams of sodium allowed now per lunch for kids in grades 9 to 12 to about 935 milligrams.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) today expressed optimism for USDA’s proposed updates to school meal nutrition standards.

“Children having access to the healthful foods they need to grow and focus in school is a key priority for dairy farmers,” said Jim Mulhern, NMPF President, and CEO. “We are pleased USDA is maintaining low-fat flavored milk in schools, providing children with an additional, and favored, choice to access the 13 essential nutrients milk provides, including three of the four nutrients of public health concern. But we question why USDA would propose school meal options that could limit a child’s access to these nutrients, and we urge instead that they expand access to dairy options. Providing low-fat flavored milk will increase students’ intake of nutrients vital for their growth and development.”

Those interested in submitting a comment may learn more here.