February 7, 2022 — The US Department of Agriculture has announced new changes to school nutrition standards for the next 2 school years, which will restore health goals that were rolled back during the Trump administration.
“Nutritious school meals give America’s children the foundation for successful and healthy lives,” said Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture. in a sentence on Friday.
“We applaud the heroic efforts of schools throughout the challenges of this pandemic to continue to serve children the most nutritious meals possible,” he said. “The standards we are implementing for the next 2 school years will help schools transition to a future that builds on the tremendous strides they have made to improve the nutrition of school meals over the last decade.”
For the 2022-2023 school year, schools and child care providers will be required to offer plain low-fat or fat-free milk and limit the Fat in sweet flavored milk. Additionally, at least 80% of the grains served during school breakfasts and lunches each week must be considered high in whole grains.
For the 2023-2024 school year, the weekly sodium limit for school lunches will be reduced by 10%.
The changes mark a change from the Trump administration, which eased policies on whole grains, skim milk and sodium, the newspaper reported. Then the pandemic forced additional changes as school districts scrambled to package meals for students. The USDA provided additional flexibility and eased some guidelines to ensure children could be fed while schools were closed or focused on remote learning.
Now, the USDA is updating nutrition standards to “give schools clear expectations for the gradual transition from current pandemic operations to more nutritious meals,” said Stacy Dean, USDA deputy assistant secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, to reporters last week.
The Biden administration’s changes represent a return to Obama-era nutrition standards from 2012, according to the Mail. But some nutrition advocates have said the new changes don’t address enough problems, such as added sugars. Fruit and vegetable requirements, for example, will remain the same as the 2012 standards.
That said, some advocates have said the transition could be difficult as schools abandon pandemic-era protocols. The School Nutrition Association, which represents manufacturers and school food service professionals, has urged Congress to provide additional support and exemption extensions for the next school year.
“School nutrition professionals are desperate trying to put enough food on the tray for our students amid relentless supply chain disruptions and labor shortages,” Beth Wallace, president of the association, told the newspaper.
The change will likely require a balancing act and a slow transition. USDA has been consulting with stakeholders for months to determine how to move toward more stringent school nutrition standards while acknowledging the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and labor shortages.
“This approach will really help advance mealtime nutrition and allow schools to continue to function effectively,” Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Food Research and Action, said. Mail.
“Schools can’t make big changes right now because of the supply chain and staffing,” he said. “They have a lot of waivers right now that are helping them, and this balances the needs of all the different sectors.”
The USDA plans to issue a proposed rule in the fall of 2022 to update nutrition standards for the future, the department said in its announcement, which would be finalized by the 2024-2025 school year.