USDA Releases Transitional School Meal Standards to Strengthen Nutrition Quality

02/04/2022 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced updates to school nutrition standards that give schools a path forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and operational challenges ranging from supply chain to staffing shortages. These transitional standards are a step toward strengthening the standards to ensure schools continue to be the healthiest places for children to eat.

The Academy has long supported strong nutrition standards that align with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Due to the pandemic and ongoing supply chain and staffing challenges, such as those experienced by many School Nutrition Services dietetic practice group members, the Academy agrees efforts must be employed to thoughtfully and realistically support and guide school nutrition programs towards the ultimate goal of strong nutrition standards that align with the DGAs.

USDA previously updated the standards in 2012 after passing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Schools were largely successful in implementing the standards, which had a proven, positive impact on student's diets.

The rule released February 4 establishes the following requirements beginning in the 2022-2023 school year:

  • Milk: Schools and child care providers serving children 6 and older may offer flavored low-fat (1%) milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk.
  • Whole Grains: At least 80% of grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grain-rich.
  • Sodium: The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level and, or school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in 2023-2024. This aligns with the Food and Drug Administration's recently released guidance that establishes voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed, packaged and prepared foods.
  • All other nutrition standards, including fruit and vegetable requirements, will remain the same as the 2012 standards.

The Academy will continue to work with members to review and comment on the final rule as well as to establish recommendations for USDA as its efforts continue.