Nutrition Standards for School-Based Programs

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New Brief:
Research Shows that the School Nutrition Standards Improve the School Nutrition Environment and Student Outcomes
New standards first took effect in the 2012 – 2013 school year for lunch, 2013 – 2014 school year for breakfast, and 2014 – 2015 school year for competitive foods. This brief highlights the evidence that the new standards for school meals are working.

The school day is healthier. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make significant nutrition improvements in school meals, as well as to improve the overall quality of the food sold at school. Specifically, USDA was mandated to update nutrition standards for school lunch, breakfast, and competitive foods. Schools must make sure that water is available* free of charge during the meal service. FRAC advocated for these long-overdue improvements and then worked with USDA during the rulemaking process by providing input on the changes.

These new nutrition standards for school meals and competitive foods also have the potential to increase school meal participation. There is a growing body of evidence and local success stories that demonstrate that improving school meal quality and the overall school food environment improves school meal participation.


In January 2012, USDA issued the new standards which:

  • Increased the amount of fruits and vegetables served, emphasized whole grain-rich foods, required only low fat and nonfat milk, limited calories, and reduced 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.

Learn more by reading FRAC’s analysis of the changes (pdf).


In June 2013, USDA issued the “Smart Snacks in School” rule which:

  • Set limits on calories, fats, sugar and sodium and encouraged the consumption of dairy, whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables.
  • Stipulated that all snack foods sold in school must be “whole grain-rich” (i.e., they should contain 50 percent whole grains), have whole grains as the first ingredient, or have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product or a protein-rich food.

Learn more by visiting USDA’s Smart Snacks site or downloading this fact sheet (pdf).

*See Strategies for Success: Making the Most of the New School Water and Milk Requirements.