New standards will limit added sugar, sodium in US school lunches

There’s also an added emphasis for schools to include more options that support vegetarianism and other dietary needs or preferences.
A school lunch.
Posted at 4:38 PM, Apr 24, 2024

New standards set by the U.S. government will limit the amount of sugar and sodium in school breakfasts and lunches.

The changes, announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be implemented gradually starting this fall. They come after the agency put out a call last year for public feedback on new standards for school lunches which are provided to nearly 30 million children in grades K-12 daily.

Schools will be able to require some of the food they serve to be grown, raised or caught from local providers when making purchases for their meal programs.

By the beginning of the 2025-26 school year, there will be limits on the percentage of food purchased from sources outside of the U.S. in an effort to support American farmers and producers, the USDA said. This phase of changes will also include limits to the amount of added sugars in cereals, yogurts and milk schools provide.

Added sugars will not be allowed to make up more than 10% of the weekly calories from school meals by the 2027-28 school year. By that time, schools will also be required to reduce sodium levels by 10% in breakfast and 15% in lunches.

USDA School Lunch Standards Timeline 2024
Implementation timeline for updating school meal standards.

There’s also an added emphasis for schools to include more options that support vegetarianism and other dietary needs or preferences, according to the announcement.

This marks the first time the USDA has reformed school meal standards in 14 years. The last big set of changes came after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed by then-President Barack Obama, which emphasized reducing childhood obesity.

By law, the agency is required to set specifications for school lunch programs based on its “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” model which is updated every five years in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to the 136,000 public comments received about the proposed standards, the USDA said it factored in feedback from listening sessions held with state agencies, school districts, stakeholders, professional associations and other organizations to come up with the final guidelines.

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