In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued the new nutrition standards for school meals, 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.
As of June 2015, 97 percent of school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program had indicated that they were meeting the new standards. As such, these districts have begun drawing down the additional 6 cents per meal as provided in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Certainly, implementation of the new school nutrition standards has not come without challenges and some districts have struggled more than others. It is crucial to support these struggling districts as they continue to improve the nutrition quality of meals served to meet the new standards and ensure that program participation is not compromised as a result.