School Meal Nutrition Standards


USDA Resources on School Nutrition and Wellness

All meals provided through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Program must be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (passed in 2010) included several provisions aimed at improving the quality of school lunch and breakfast for children across the country. One key provision called for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue new school meal nutrition standards that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

In January 2012, USDA issued the new standards which:

  • Increased the amount of fruits and vegetables served, emphasizes whole grain-rich foods, requires only lower fat and nonfat milk, limits calories, and reduces saturated fat and sodium.
  • Required school lunch standards to be implemented in all schools for the 2012-2013 school year.
  • Phased in implementation of school breakfast standards over a three-year period.
  • Allowed “offer versus serve” fruit and vegetable serving options consistent with the Institute of Medicine recommendations.
  • Improved cultural food options, such as allowing tofu to qualify as a meat/meat alternate.
  • Cost $3.2 billion over 5 years. (A considerable reduction from the $6.7 billion estimate in the proposed rule.)

These new standards marked the most comprehensive changes to the school nutrition environment in more than a generation. The last update to school meals standards was over 15 years ago.