American schoolchildren could be getting school lunches that have less sugar and salt in the future, thanks to new nutrition standards announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday.
These are the first school lunch program updates since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The difference this time is a limit on added sugars, starting in the 2025-2026 school year. Limits would at first target high-sugar foods, including sweetened cereals, yogurts, and flavored milks. By fall 2027, added sugars must be less than 10 percent of total calories a week for school breakfasts and lunches. Sugary grain foods like muffins or doughnuts cannot be served more than twice a week at breakfast.
Another example is that an 8-oz container of chocolate milk must contain no more than 10 g of sugar under the revised rules. Some popular flavored milks contain twice that amount.
“Many children aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and diet-related diseases are on the rise. Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals in a day for most kids, proving that they are an important tool for giving kids access to the nutrition they need for a bright future,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency news release.
Vilsack said the agency’s goal is to get school guidelines to align with U.S. dietary guidelines for the nearly 30 million children who eat lunch at school and the 15 million who have breakfast there.
Sugar won’t be the only thing targeted in the updated rules. Sodium would be capped to stay in alignment with recommendations that kids 14 years and older have less than 2,300 mg per day. The recommended limits are less for younger children. Sodium content would be reduced in school meals by 30 percent by fall 2029. High school student lunches now average about 1,280 mg of sodium, and that would drop to 935 mg.
A 60-day public comment period on the 280-page plan starts Feb. 7.