USDA Issues Final Rule on Transitional School Nutrition Standards

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced updates to school nutrition standards providing a path forward for schools to transition from current pandemic operations toward more nutritious school meals. Specifically, the USDA issued transitional standards that will begin in school year 2022-23 and run through school year 2023-24.

In 2022, USDA will continue to prioritize supporting schools as they navigate COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges and related operational issues while ensuring children have access to healthy school meals. USDA is also planning for the future by engaging with school meal stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards beginning in school year 2024-25.

Recall, the USDA previously updated school nutrition standards in 2012. According to the USDA, schools have been largely successful in implementing standards which have had a proven, positive impact on student diets. However, due to specific implementation delays and pandemic-related constraints, some schools may not be prepared to fully meet standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium. The USDA, through its final rule on transitional standards, provides schools clarity on standards for the coming years and allows a graduate transition from pandemic-related operations to normal program operations.

The new final rule specifically establishes the following requirements for school year 2022-23:

  • Milk: Schools and childcare providers serving participants ages six and older may offered flavored low-fat milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk
  • Whole Grains: At least 80 percent 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 in school year 2022-23. For school lunch only, a 10 percent decrease in the limit will take effect for school year 2023-24. This approach aligns with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed, packaged, and prepared foods in the U.S.

All other nutrition standards, including fruit and vegetables standards, will remain the same as the 2012 standards.

Following issuance of the final rule, the FDA issued a statement applauding the USDA standards as an approach that “supports ongoing whole-of-government efforts to improve nutrition, reduce chronic disease, and help create a healthier food supply for all.”

USDA intends to issue a proposed rule later this year that moves toward updating nutrition standards for the long term. USDA is required to update school nutrition standards based on recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA anticipates finalizing its rule in time for schools to plan for the 2024-25 school year.

Additional information is available here.