Proposed changes to school meals program

The USDA published a proposed rule to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama on December 13, 2010. Meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in 15 years and make critical changes to school meals to help improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day, an important component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.

 

The proposed changes to school meal standards, which add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to school meals, are based on recommendations released in October 2009 by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM). Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories, and trans fats in meals.

The requirement for fruits for breakfast would double to 1 cup per day, the amount of grains would increase by nearly 80 percent (at least half whole grains), the 1 cup of milk required would be changed to a fat content of 1 percent or less (no flavored low-fat fluid milk because it increases both saturated fat and calories, but flavored fat-free fluid milk would be allowed because calcium is a nutrient of concern and the use of flavors encourages children to drink more fluid milk, the F.N.S. noted. The proposed rule also would no longer allow schools to offer whole milk or reduced-fat fluid milk as part of the reimbursable meal.

For lunch, fruits and vegetables would increase per day to 3/4 cup to 1 cup of vegetables plus 1/2 to 1 cup of fruit per day. It calls for dark green and orange vegetables and legumes (dry beans) and limits of 1 cup per week of starchy vegetables such as white potatoes, corn and green peas and lima beans. Meat and meat alternatives minimum daily requirement would be raised to 1.6 to 2.4 oz equivalents.

"To facilitate school's compliance with the fruits requirement, schools would be allowed to offer fruit that is fresh, frozen without sugar, dried, or canned in fruit juice, water, or light syrup," the F.N.S. said. "To confer fiber benefits, it is important to meet the fruits component with whole fruit whenever possible. Schools would be able to offer pasteurized, full strength (100%) fruit juice, as currently defined, to meet up to one-half of the fruits requirement. Products that contain less than 100% juice would be allowed."

The proposed minimum and maximum calorie levels for breakfast were set at 350 to 500 for kindergarten through fifth grade; 400 to 550 for sixth grade through eighth grade; and 450 to 600 for ninth grade through twelfth grade. For lunch, the proposed calorie levels were set at 550 to 650 for kindergarten through fifth grade; 600 to 700 for sixth grade through eighth grade; and 750 to 850 for ninth grade through twelfth grade.

The F.N.S. set a timeline for sodium reduction targets for two years, four years and 10 years after implementation. If implemented, the rule in 10 years would reduce sodium levels in the Breakfast Program between 25 percent and 27 percent from current levels, while levels in the Lunch Program would be cut by 53 percent to 54 percent during the same time frame.

 

USDA is seeking input on the proposed rule from the public through April 13, 2011 at www.regulations.gov