USDA Proposes Big Shift in School Meals

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) –  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued its first proposal Thursday regarding child nutrition standards for meals served in the nation’s public schools, using the authority given to them under the recently passed Child Nutrition Bill.

Generally speaking, the proposed regulations would add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to school meals. Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories and trans fats in meals.  

These limits vary depending on the age of the child: Those in kindergarten through 5th grade can only be served breakfasts that contain 350-500 calories and lunches that contain 550-650 calories. Students in grades 6 through 8 can be served 400-550 calorie meals for breakfast and 600-700 calorie meals for lunch. High schools would be required to serve 450-600 calorie breakfasts and 750-850 calorie lunches.

Sodium levels would be similarly lowered over the course of the next decade, and other specifics of the plan include:

  • that half of grain products served to students must be whole grains
  • that a serving of fruit must be offered daily at both breakfast and lunch
  • that two servings of vegetables must be offered every day at lunch
  • that only unflavored fat-free or low-fat milk can be served
  • that the amount of starchy vegetables, such as white potatoes, corn, lima beans, and green peas, be restricted to one cup a week


The proposal is based on recommendations released in October 2009 by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM). To illustrate how these regulations would directly alter a school’s meal program, the USDA has provided mock menu suggestions.

"We understand that these improved meal standards may present challenges for some school districts, but the new law provides important new resources, technical assistance and flexibility to help schools raise the bar for our kids," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a written statement.

Passed in December, the Child Nutrition Bill, among other things, gives the Agriculture Department the authority to set nutritional standards and write guidelines for what can and cannot be sold in the nation’s public schools. President Obama signed the bill into law shortly thereafter.

The bill also stipulates that schools receive an additional 6 cents per meal in government reimbursements and increases technical assistance provided to schools to help them meet the new standards.

The USDA is now seeking input on the proposed rule from the public through April 13, 2011. Those interested in reviewing the proposal and offering comments can do so here at www.regulations.gov, a web-based portal designed to garner public feedback on proposed federal regulations.

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