Egg Nutrition Center Blog

New School Nutrition Standards Will Improve the Health and Wellbeing of 32 Million Kids Nationwide

Hi Readers! Today we have Donna S. Martin, EdS, RD, LD, SNS, blogging. Enjoy!


First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation. The new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! Campaign and signed into law by President Obama. These improvements to the school meal programs, largely based on recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine, are expected to enhance the diet and health of school children, and help mitigate the childhood obesity trend. The third of U.S. children who are overweight or obese contribute to an estimated $3 billion in direct medical costs.

Overview of the Final Rule from the USDA Regulations

1. All Schools must use Food Based Menu Planning.
2. Schools are to plan menus for breakfast and lunch using the following age groups: grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
3. Fruits and vegetables will be two separate components at lunch. Students will be required to have a serving of fruits or vegetables (minimum ½ cup) on their tray in order for their meal to be considered reimbursable. Up to one half of the fruit component can be fruit juice (i.e., 1/2 of the 1 cup).
4. Districts must offer minimum quantities of all vegetable subgroups (dark green, red/orange, beans and peas, starchy and other) over the course of the week.
5. Initially, at least half of grains offered during week must be whole grain-rich. Beginning in SY 2014-15, all grains offered must be whole grain-rich (a whole grain-rich food must contain at least 51percent whole grains).
6. You can only offer plain or flavored fat-free milk and unflavored low-fat milk (1 percent or less) and you must include a variety.
7. Calories for lunch now include a minimum and a maximum range that is averaged over a week.
a. Grades K-5 (550-650 kcal)
b. Grades 6-8 (600-700 kcal)
c. Grades 9-12 (750-850 kcal)
8. Sodium levels now have intermediate target ranges to help schools reach final targets.
a. Target 1: SY 2014-2015
b. Target 2: SY 2017-2018
c. Final Target: SY 2022-2023 (minus 53% of current sodium levels)
9. Weekly average requirements for nutrient analysis are calories, sodium and saturated fat.
10. School reviews starting in 2013-14 will be every 3 years. The reviews will evaluate a one week period of lunch and breakfast.
11. 0 grams of “added” trans fat will be permitted per serving of food. This does not include naturally occurring trans fats found in meat and dairy products.
12. Students must take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch to be considered a reimbursable meal at breakfast and lunch.
13. Gives USDA authority to set nutritional standards for all foods sold regularly in schools during the school day. This includes vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores.
14. There will be a six-cent per lunch performance-based reimbursement increase that will provide additional revenue beginning October, 2012.
15. Schools will be required to offer 1 cup of fruit to all age/grade groups at breakfast beginning the 2013-14 school year. Up to one half of the per meal fruit component can be fruit juice.
16. There is no meat/meat alternate requirement for Breakfast; however, after serving a required number of grains per week, meat may be used as a grain alternative.

School Nutrition Programs have already been implementing these new guidelines for many years. Improving school meals has been an ongoing process in districts large and small, long before TV chefs made it a headline issue. School Nutrition Program professionals have always wanted to serve the best, most nutritious meals possible to their students each day. This rule just helps strengthen all of our programs and allows us to all be on the same page. There are going to be some challenges with the new regulations in terms of retraining staff, students and faculty in the following areas:

• How do you teach them what a reimbursable meal is?
• How do we cook with less sodium and still make the meals palatable?
• How do you get the students to accept all whole-grain rich foods?
• How do you get students to make sure they have a fruit or vegetable on their tray?

Yet, in the end the real reason we are here is to feed all the students in our programs healthy food and to be able to teach them lifelong good eating habits. As School Nutrition Directors we are all used to challenges and I say bring it on. With the dedication of these professionals and the innovation from the food manufacturing sector and the collaboration from USDA we will be able to align the new school meals more closely to the Dietary Guidelines. The real winners with these new regulations will be the students all over the United States. What a great investment in all of our futures!

Author: Anna Shlachter MS, RDN, LDN