Based on the latest nutrition science and extensive feedback from our school meal partners, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is proposing updates to the school nutrition standards in a few key areas to give kids the right balance of nutrients for healthy and appealing meals. The proposed updates reflect the most recent Dietary Guidelines, as required by law, and build in plenty of time for planning and implementation to ensure the school meals community and the kids they serve have the best chance for long-term success.
This proposed rule - Child Nutrition Programs: Revisions to Meal Patterns Consistent with the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans - is the next step in an ongoing effort toward healthier school meals that USDA and the broader school meals community have been partnering on for well over a decade.
Click on the icons below for more information on the proposed nutrition standards provisions.
A full description of all proposed provisions is available for download. These provisions are designed to respond to stakeholder feedback and strengthen the school meal programs.
- Comparison Chart: Current Standards vs. Proposed Standards
- CACFP and SFSP - Potential Impact of Proposed Provisions
- Infographic: Proposed Rule for School Meal Standards
- Infographic: Proposed Timeline for Implementation
- Infographic: The Road Ahead - Building Back Better with School Meals
- Media Toolkit
- Recording of Stakeholder Briefing (02/06/23)
- Recording of the Proposed Rule Webinar (02/23/23)
- Proposed Implementation Timeline for Nutrition Standards (04/26/23)
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why is USDA proposing these updates to the nutrition standards?
The proposed updates were created with one goal in mind: supporting the growth, health, and well-being of kids. By law, USDA is required to develop school nutrition standards that reflect the goals of the most recent edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which found that most kids are consuming too much sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, and not enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This is leading to a rise in diet-related diseases. Following the science and listening to extensive feedback from all our school meal partners, FNS is proposing gradual updates to the school nutrition standards in a few key areas to give kids the right balance of nutrients for healthy, tasty meals.
- What do families and kids need to know about these proposed updates?
School nutrition staff work tirelessly to serve children healthy, tasty meals. And it shows: research found that school meals are the healthiest meals most kids get in a day. Still, there is room for improvement. For example, the latest Dietary Guidelines show that many children are consuming too much sugar and sodium, which is contributing to diet-related diseases.
Therefore, USDA is proposing updates to a few aspects of school meals to make them even more nourishing while still ensuring they’re tasty for kids. These changes aren’t happening now. Right now, we’re asking for your feedback to help us develop final standards that will best support kids’ health, learning, and growth.
- What do schools need to know about the proposed updates to the school nutrition standards?
We are incredibly grateful for the dedication of school nutrition professionals who serve students healthy meals with kindness and care. We know some schools continue to face challenges amid high food costs and supply chain issues, and we’re committed to continuing to provide them with all the support we can to help them succeed.
However, we need to keep moving forward to make sure school meals continue to best support kids’ health and wellbeing, and we’re committed to doing that in partnership. Schools let us know that changes to the nutrition standards need to be gradual and predictable to give them time to plan and give children’s taste preferences time to adapt. We took their feedback very seriously when developing these proposed updates and implementation timeline, which is why we’re proposing changes now so schools have plenty of time to prepare. But these changes are not final. Rather, we look forward to schools’ feedback on these proposed updates through public comment and will use their input to develop final standards that meet the needs of the entire school meals community and set kids up to thrive.
- What is USDA proposing to change?
The proposed changes build on the current school nutrition standards, with updates in a few key areas:
- Added Sugars: Limit added sugars, first with product-based limits for specific high-sugar items and later, with overall weekly limits.
- Milk: Allow some fat-free/low-fat flavored milk to be served in school meals, with reasonable limits for added sugars. USDA is seeking feedback on two options: 1) limiting flavored milk to grades 9-12 or 2) allowing it for all grades (K-12).
- Whole Grains: Require products that are primarily whole grain (at least 50% whole grains) with the option to occasionally offer non-whole, enriched grain products. USDA is seeking feedback on two options: 1) requiring 80% of grains per week to be whole grain or 2) allowing non-whole, enriched grain products (like white flour tortillas) one day per week.
- Sodium: Gradually lower the weekly sodium limit over several school years. This includes two reductions for school breakfast (10% each in fall 2025 and fall 2027) and three reductions for school lunch (10% each in fall 2025, fall 2027, and fall 2029).
Other proposed updates include:
- Supporting schools serving primarily American Indian and Alaska Native children in offering more culturally appropriate foods.
- Setting a limit (5% of total food costs) on food purchases from outside of the U.S.
- Allowing schools to limit food contract bids to products that are locally grown, raised, or caught.
A full description of all proposed standards is available for download.
- How did USDA decide what to include in the proposed updates?
The proposed updates are based on the latest nutrition science, real-world experience from school nutrition professionals, and input from nutrition and industry experts, all with shared the goal of supporting child health through nutritious school meals.
By law, school nutrition standards must reflect the goals of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, USDA reviewed all of the comments responding to the current nutrition standards (the transitional “bridge” rule) and held over 50 listening sessions with parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, public health and nutrition experts, partners from tribal nations, and the food industry.
- Why do the proposed updates include more than one option for certain standards?
USDA is offering multiple options to get feedback about which approach would be best for students, schools, and partners. We encourage the public to weigh in on these options and other aspects of the proposed standards and will use that feedback to inform the final decisions. All options presented are grounded in the latest nutrition science and real-world experience from nutrition and industry experts.
- If school meals are already healthy, why is USDA proposing changes?
For most kids, school meals are the healthiest meals they get in a day, but there is still room for improvement. For example, the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicates that about 70-80% of school-aged kids get more than the recommended daily limit of added sugars. With diet-related diseases like diabetes and obesity on the rise, children’s health and futures are at stake. Millions of children rely on school meals for more than half of their food each school day, so even small nutritional improvements can have big impacts.
- How do the proposed updates support culturally appropriate school meals?
USDA encourages schools to plan and serve culturally appropriate meals for their students, which is an important part of nutrition equity. With the proposed updates, schools serving primarily American Indian and Alaska Native children would be able to serve vegetables – such as yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes – to meet the grains requirement. USDA would also explicitly state in regulation that foods traditionally prepared and consumed by an American Indian Tribe – such as wild game meat, fish, seafood, marine mammals, plants, and berries – can be served in school meals. This is currently allowed but not widely known. USDA is also requesting public feedback on additional menu options that would improve meals for American Indian and Alaska Native children.
- How do the proposed updates support buying local and domestic foods for school meals?
USDA encourages schools to serve local and domestic foods in their school meal programs. For example, USDA strongly supports Farm to School Programs, which connect children with local agriculture. Further, USDA requires schools to purchase domestic products to the maximum extent practical, known as the Buy American provision.
The proposed rule would strengthen support for local and domestic foods. USDA proposes allowing schools to include locally grown, raised, or caught as a requirement for vendors bidding to provide food for their school meal programs. In addition, USDA proposes updating the Buy American provision by setting a limit of 5% of total food costs on non-domestic food purchases. USDA welcomes public feedback on these proposals.
- Will kids eat the healthier meals?
USDA recognizes that food is only nutritious if students eat it, which is why we considered feedback from food science experts, program operators, students, and others on how to balance taste and nutrition when developing the proposed standards. For example, the proposed reductions for added sugars and sodium would be gradual across multiple school years to allow students’ tastes to adapt to the changes.
Schools all across the country have had success in serving meals that are both nutritious and appetizing. We encourage schools to consider best practices such as student taste tests, salad bars, student advisory committees, and nutrition education efforts to help increase consumption and reduce food waste.
- When would these changes be implemented?
USDA is proposing a gradual, multi-year approach to implementing updates to the nutrition standards. The first changes would take effect in fall 2024, and final updates would be complete by fall 2029. See the proposed implementation timeline for further details.
- How will USDA support schools in meeting the updated nutrition standards?
It is important to note that school meals are not changing right now. These standards are proposals, and USDA is now gathering public feedback to inform next steps.
USDA is committed to providing schools the support they need to continue serving kids nutritious and appealing meals – both now and once the updates are finalized:
- USDA offers ongoing training and technical assistance to school districts.
- FNS Team Nutrition provides resources, tools, and grants to help schools engage students in learning about and trying new foods.
- FNS partners with the Institute of Child Nutrition to provide tailored trainings for school nutrition professionals.
- How do I share my input on the proposed standards?
USDA welcomes comments on the proposed rule during the public comment period from Feb. 7, 2023 through May 10, 2023. Individuals and organizations interested in reading the full text of the proposed rule and submitting public comments can visit the Federal Register Notice. Please follow the prompts to submit a public comment. For more information about submitting a public comment, please see the Frequently Asked Questions at www.Regulations.gov.
- What comes next?
USDA looks forward to receiving public feedback on the proposed changes. Once the comment period closes, we will review the comments and take them into consideration as we begin developing the final standards, which we aim to publish in time for schools to plan for the 2024-2025 school year. USDA is proposing that the first changes would take effect in fall 2024, and final updates would be complete by fall 2029 (see: proposed implementation timeline). USDA will continue working closely with our school meals partners throughout this entire process, charting the path forward together and ensuring they have the support they need to serve their students well.