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Updated Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs

Published May 8, 2024

On April 24, 2024, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Services published a final rule on child nutrition programs which aligns more closely with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and will go into effect on July 1, 2024. Gradual reductions for added sugars are addressed for the first time under this update, along with updated sodium limits. These changes affect both the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), with some changes also noted for Child and Adult Care Food Programs (CACFP).

History of NSLP and SBP Changes

At the time, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, marked the most comprehensive changes to school meals in more than 15 years. The standards included increasing the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free and low-fat milk, as well as establishing clear guidelines on sodium and saturated fat.

These updates aimed to combat both childhood obesity and the rising occurrence of childhood hunger. Original standards were to be implemented in three phases over a nine-year period, with many goals successfully completed and children consuming more fruits and vegetables at lunch. However, other goals, such as sodium limits, saw delayed timelines and altered targets.

The final rule released in April 2024, provides an update to these guidelines while keeping many of the original goals.

Limits for Added Sugars

The new limitations on added sugars will be implemented in two phases. Phase one begins July 1, 2025, for the 2025-2026 school year, with limits on added sugars in specific foods, including:

  • Breakfast cereal: limited to 6 grams of added sugars per ounce
  • Yogurt: limited to 12 grams of added sugars per 6-ounce serving
  • Flavored milk: limited to 10 grams of added sugars per 8-ounce serving, with up to 15 grams of added sugars per 12-ounce serving allowed for middle and high schools when sold as a competitive food . Competitive foods include all foods and beverages available for sale to students, outside of the reimbursable meal.

Phase two will keep the itemized limits noted above, and includes a weekly limit of 10% of calories from added sugars starting in the 2027-2028 school year.

Limits for Sodium

Sodium levels are categorized by student grade level and vary for breakfast and lunch. The final rule aims to reduce sodium by about 15% at lunch and 10% at breakfast. New limits are set to go into effect by July 1, 2027.

  • Grades K-5: limit of 485 milligrams of sodium at breakfast; limit of 935 milligrams of sodium at lunch
  • Grades 6-8: limit of 535 milligrams of sodium at breakfast; limit of 1,035 milligrams of sodium at lunch
  • Grades 9-12: limit of 570 milligrams of sodium at breakfast; limit of 1,080 milligrams of sodium at lunch.

These limits are interpreted as the average daily amount of sodium in lunch and breakfast menus offered over the course of a school week.

Additional Guidelines for Child Nutrition Programs

Guidelines for flavored milk and whole grains will remain the same as those previously in effect, except for the updated limits on added sugars. Both low-fat and fat-free flavored milk will continue to be offered, and at least 80% of the grains offered each week must be whole grain-rich.

The final rule includes additional information to assist programs interested in incorporating more plant-based, cultural and local foods. However, these actions are encouraged rather than required, unlike the added sugars and sodium limits.

Beginning October 1, 2025, CACFPs will have the same limits noted for school nutrition programs on added sugars in breakfast cereal and yogurt (but not milk). There are currently no changes suggested for sodium content in CACFP meals.

For more information, and a complete guide to these changes, visit the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services website.


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