The current program serves lunch to nearly 30 million school children every day
Starting on February 7, you have a say in your children’s school meals program. It’s a 60 day period of public commenting on a plan announced today by the US agriculture officials. At a press conference, the Agriculture Secretary Vilsack announced new nutrition standards for school meals. The plan includes the first limits on added sugars. It also seeks to decrease sodium in the meals served to the nation’s school kids by 2029. With a focus on sweetened foods such as cereals, yogurt, flavored milk and breakfast pastries, the goal is to improve nutrition and align meals with U.S. dietary guidelines.
The Break Down in Numbers
The program serves breakfast to more than 15 million children and lunch to nearly 30 million children every day, said Secretary Vilsack.
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 milks.
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 officials said that the proposal also would reduce sodium in school meals by 30% by the fall of 2029 with the goal of aligning with federal guidelines. The recommendations for Americans aged 14 and older limit sodium to about 2,300 milligrams a day with less for younger ages. On average 1,280 milligrams of sodium is allowed now per lunch for kids in grades 9 to 12. The plan seeks to bring it down to 935 milligrams.
Children’s Meals and Their Health
Health experts say cutting back on sugar and salt can help decrease the risk of disease in kids, including diabetes, obesity and other problems that often continue into adulthood.
The plan met with criticism by the School Nutrition Association that see more regulations as a burden for school districts especially in the rural areas.
At the press conference today, Secretary Vilsack said that the proposal phases changes in over the next six years to allow schools and food manufacturers time to adjust to the new standards. Furthermore, the USDA will fund grants of up to $150,000 to help small and rural schools make the changes. Sugar substitutes are allowed under the new standards. Secretary Vilsack noted that the proposal would continue to require that 80% of all grains offered in a week must be whole grains, yet it allows schools to serve non-whole grain foods.
Some parents consider the plan a positive effort that will help the kids, who will not even notice the changes, eat healthier. As part of the plan, agriculture officials are seeking feedback from parents and the public.
Source: Press Conference US Agriculture Department, statement, reports