USDA Proposes New Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs

On Thursday, the USDA proposed new nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The new regulations follow as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which was signed into law in December.

The most significant changes to the lunch menu are the increase in fruits and vegetables – more than twice the current required amount. Also, the new requirements for specific types of vegetables will reduce the number of ways a cafeteria can serve potatoes. No more french fries and tater tots for lunch every day. They’re still allowed, but limited.

The Proposed School Lunch Nutrition Standards

The proposed nutrition standards for school lunches are:

  • ½ cup of fruit per day for grades K-8 and 1 cup of fruit per day for grades 9-12
  • ¾ cup of vegetables per day for grades K-8 and 1 cup of vegetables per day for grades 9-12
  • at least ½ cup of dark green vegetables
  • at least ½ cup of orange vegetables
  • at least ½ cup of legumes
  • no more than 1 cup of starchy vegetables
  • at least 1 ounces of grains per day for grades K-8 (9-10 ounces for the week) and at least 2 ounces of grains per day for grades 9-12 (12-13 ounces for the week)
  • at least 1 ounces of meat or meat alternates per day for grades K-8 (8-10 ounces for K-5 for the week; 9-10 ounces for 6-8 for the week) and at least 2 ounces for grades 9-12 (10-12 ounces for the week)
  • 1 cup of fluid milk per day
  • less than 10% of total calories may come from saturated fat
  • 0 grams trans fat per serving
  • Calorie limits are given as daily maximum and minimum levels for different age groups – 550-650 for grades K-5, 600-700 for grades 6-8, and 750-850 for grades 9-12.
  • Sodium also must be reduced to less than 640 mg daily for grades K-5, less than 710 mg daily for grades 6-8, and less than 740 mg daily for grades 9-12. These targets will be introduced over the course of the next ten years.

No more than half of the fruit offerings may be in the form of juice and all juice must be 100% full-strength. That’s a welcome improvement. We’ve discussed juices aimed at children before on Eat.Drink.Better and they often seem to have twice the calories and none of the nutrition of the fruit they were pressed from.

Flavored milk is still allowed, but it must be fat-free. Non-flavored milk must be 1% milk fat or less.

When the regulations go into effect, half of the grains served at lunch must be “whole grain-rich”. What does that mean? It means that at least 51% of the grain in a product is from whole grains. I’ve never seen that phrase in the grocery store. I suppose soon it’ll be posted in brightly colored letters on many breads. By five years, all the grains must be whole grain-rich.

School Breakfast

The breakfast requirements are quite different from current breakfast standards. The serving of fruit will double from ½ cup per day to 1 cup per day. The servings of grains and meat or meat alternates will nearly double.

Similar to the change in lunch standards, grains served at breakfast will have to be whole grain-rich and milk will have to be 1% milk fat or less.

What Next?

Public comment is welcomed on the new standards. The deadline to submit comments is April 13, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST.  If you prefer to write your comments and send them through the mail, address them to Julie Brewer, Chief, Policy and Program Development Branch, Child Nutrition Division, Food and Nutrition Service, Department of Agriculture, 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 640, Alexandria, Virginia 22302-1594.

The proposed guidelines can be read as a pdf file or online. The document is 77 pages long, but it’s a fairly quick read.

The new nutrition standards only address what is served by the school cafeteria.  It does not ban foods that parents pack in their children’s lunches from home.

Image by stuart_spivack, used with Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

Heather Carr loves food, politics, and innovative ways to make the world a better place. She counts Jacques Pepin and Speed Racer among her inspirations. You can find her on Facebook or .

  • I am THRILLED with this! Ourkids deserve it so much and I think it is a wonderful step in the right direction! I believe all kids should have a chance to try these foods and to learn to appreciate them. It seems there are some who don’t think kids will adapt to it and the food will go to the waste. But, I think that with anything – it may just take sometime! Our kids love healthy foods and often prefer it over the other junk stuff. Our son has food allergies so we began to really go towards a whole foods diet and now they love whole grains like Kamut Wheat and quinoa and fresh fruits and veggies! This is great news :)

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  • This will require buying more plates with larger portion sizes. Double the cost. Double the garbage. I don’t think they will eat that much.

  • I believe a half of a cup is sufficient, most kids dont eat that much anyways. They usually throw away most of the vegetables they do get.One cup would be wasteful and unnecessary. Please take into consideration the cost of the food being thrown out. thank you!

  • While this may sound good at first glance,it does not seem very practical. It will increase the cost of production and it will cause more waste.

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