A report from District Administration recommends that school leaders start preparing now for a new set of school nutrition standards they may have to serve up in school cafeterias over the next five years.

Reducing salt and sugar across school menus are the leading goal of the USDA’s latest proposal, which includes:

  1. Limiting added sugars in certain high-sugar products and, later, across the weekly menu.
  2. Incrementally reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years.
  3. Allowing flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars.
  4. Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grain, with the option for occasional non-whole grain products.

The new standards are based on the latest nutrition science and targeted at a few specific areas of school meal service. For example, the sugar content of school breakfasts was a top concern the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service heard about during outreach with parents, teachers and health professionals. However, meal providers said they needed time to develop new food products, while school administrators want to give students time to adjust to the new foods.

USDA has put $100 million behind its Healthy Meals Incentives initiative, which includes grants for farm-to-school programs and food service equipment. Small and rural districts are eligible for $150,000 Action for Healthy Kids grants to make school meals more nutritious. The agency has also launched an additional $17 million in Action for Healthy Kids grants “to identify, celebrate, and showcase schools implementing successful and creative strategies for serving healthy, appealing meals.”

District leaders, educators and others can comment on the proposed school meal standards for 60 days starting Feb. 7.