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USDA proposes better school nutrition standards
The USDA is trying to improve nutrition standards for school meals. I wish it the best of luck.
- Limit added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu;
- Allow flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars;
- Incrementally reduce weekly sodium limits over many school years; and
- Emphasize products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.
This does not make it sound as if USDA is in much of a hurry. Or that it is doing anything particularly radical.
Take the sugar proposals, for example. Currently, the re are no limits on sugars in school meals, which means that any limits ought to be an improvement. The USDA proposal sugar limits in two phases:
- Product-based limits: Beginning in school year (SY) 2025-26, the rule proposes limits on products that are the leading sources of added sugars in school meals:
- Grain-based desserts (cereal bars, doughnuts, sweet rolls, toaster pastries, coffee cakes, and fruit turnovers) would be limited to no more than 2 ounce equivalents per week in school breakfast, consistent with the current limit for school lunch.
- Breakfast cereals would be limited to no more than 6 grams of added sugars per dry ounce. This would apply to CACFP [Child and Adult Care Food Program] as well, replacing the current total sugars limit.
- Yogurts would be limited to no more than 12 grams of added sugars per 6 ounces.
- Flavored milks would be limited to no more than 10 grams of added sugars per 8 fluid ounces for milk served with school lunch or breakfast. For flavored milk sold outside of the meal (as a competitive beverage for middle and high school students), the limit would be 15 grams of added sugars per 12 fluid ounces.
- Overall weekly limit: Beginning in SY 2027-28, this rule proposes limiting added sugars to an average of less than 10% of calories per meal, for both school breakfasts and lunches. This weekly limit would be in addition to the product-based limits described above.
Sugary products will still be allowed. And schools have 4-5 years to comply (by that time, today’s elementary school children will be in high school).
Why the pussy-footing? The USDA must be expecting ferocious pushback, and for good reason. Anything, no matter how small, that threatens sales of foods commonly sold in schools will incite fights to the death.
- The dairy industry is gearing up to complain about restrictions on chocolate milk, which accounts for substantial revenues.
- The industry-funded School Nutrition Association, which represents school food serrvice personnel, strongly opposes the proposals, deeming them “unachievable.”
This, of course, was precisely the reaction to Obama Administration immprovements to school meals, most of which were implemented with little difficulty. Even so, Congress yielded to lobbying pressure and caved in on rules about potatoes, ketchup (a vegetable!), and whole grains.
I will never understand why everyone isn’t behind healthier foods for kids, but I’m not trying to get them to eat junk food.
As for why school meals matter so much to kids’ health, see Healthy Eating Research: Rapid Health Impact Assessment on Changes to School Nutrition Standards to Align with 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
As for the gory details of the USDA’s proposals, see:
- Details of the proposed standards
- Comparison Chart: Current Standards vs. Proposed Standards
- Infographic: Proposed Rule for School Meal Standards
- Infographic: Proposed Timeline for Implementation
- Infographic: The Road Ahead – Building Back Better with School Meals
- Media Toolkit
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