USDA Final Rule: What it Means for Healthier School Food

May 30, 2024 | Written By:

Healthy students are better learners, and nutritious school meals are a key component of a healthy school environment. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new nutrition standards for school meals in districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program.

The final rule change is a key component of the Biden administration’s national strategy to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030.

The rule includes the first-ever limit to added sugars, bringing school meal requirements into alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Added sugars provide no nutritional value and may contribute to increased risk for a number of health issues including Type 2 diabetes. This is a significant step forward in protecting children’s health.

“Healthy Schools Campaign applauds the leadership of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and appreciates the agency’s efforts to move in the right direction,” said HSC President + CEO Jennifer Tani.

A vast body of research shows that improved nutrition in schools leads to increased focus and attention, improved test scores and better classroom behavior. Nutritious school food helps students develop lifelong healthy eating habits and contributes to a culture of wellness at school, reinforcing nutrition education messages from teachers.

There are several areas of the new USDA rule that HSC would like to see strengthened. The added sugars limit does not apply to grain-based desserts like doughnuts and cereal bars, which are a significant source of sugar and popular with children. The final rule requires that 80% of grains be whole-grain rich, stopping short of the 100% that would be needed to bring it into alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

There is also a great deal more that could be done to reduce sodium in school meals. HSC will continue to build on this progress and work in partnership with school food leaders across the country to advocate for stronger nutrition requirements.

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Note - updated to the HSC Newsletter list 1.3.2017 per the updated newsletter configuration