Federal Nutrition Standards for School Meals

 

 

School meals have a significant impact on the nutritional lives of all children, especially low-income students who often eat both breakfast and lunch at school. As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is required to update the nutrition requirements for reimbursable school meals and establish nutrition standards for all other foods served outside the school meals program at any time during the school day.

In January 2012, USDA released a final rule outlining the changes to reimbursable school meals. The rule emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, with limits on sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories.

USDA is also in the process of developing a proposal for all competitive foods served on school grounds at any time during the school day.

 

Summary of USDA’s Final Meal Requirements

USDA’s school meal pattern relies on food based menu planning in which school nutrition directors are required to serve certain items as part of each meal, such as grains or breads, fruits and vegetables, meats or meat alternates, and milk. Additional specifications for each meal component included in the proposal are outlined below:

USDA's Final School Meal Nutrition Standards

Food Based Menu Planning

Required to serve certain components to make up a complete meal (fruits, vegetables, grains, meat/meat alternate, fluid milk) Specifications regarding each of these components are outlined below.

Fruits Fresh, frozen without added sugar, canned in juice/light syrup, or dried.
No more than ½ of the fruit offerings can be in the form of juice—must be 100% juice
In 2014, will be required to serve 1 cup at breakfast (currently ½ cup)
Fruit Amounts Required

Grades K-5, 6-8: Must serve 2 ½ cups per week at lunch, at least ½ cup per day 5 cups per week at breakfast, at least 1 cup per day

Grades 9-12: Must serve 5 cups per week at breakfast and at lunch, at least 1 cup per day at each meal

Vegetables

New vegetable subgroups: dark green, red/orange, beans/peas (legumes), starchy, other. There are now weekly requirements for each vegetable subgroup.

  • Dark green (broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, etc)
  • Red/orange (carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, etc)
  • Beans/peas (Legumes) (black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, chick peas, etc)
  • Does not include green beans, green peas, green lima beans because their nutritional provide is different
  • Starchy (corn, green peas, white potatoe, etc)
  • Other (onions, green beans, cucumbers, peppers, etc)

Vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned.

Legumes may be counted as either the meat alternate component or the vegetable component of the meal, but cannot be counted as both in the same meal.

Vegetable Amounts Required at Lunch (not required at breakfast)

Grades K-5, 6-8: Must serve 3¾ cups per week, at least ¾ cup per day;

Grades 9-12: Must serve 5 cups per week, at least 1 cup per day

Minimum serving size for:

  • Dark green, Beans/peas (legumes), starchy: ½ cup for all grade levels
  • Red/orange: ¾ cup for grades K-5, 6-8 1¼ cups for grades 9-12
  • Other: ½ cup for grades K-5, 6-8 ¾ cup for grades 9-12
  • Additional Veg to Reach Weekly Total (can be from any category): 1 cup for grades K-5, 6-8 1½ cups for grades 9-12
Offer vs Serve (OVS) Optional for elementary and middle schools, required for high schools. Under OVS, must offer a certain number of components, and students are allowed to refuse a certain number of the components (usually 1 or 2 depending on meal). Before, there were no specifications regarding which components the students had to take. Now, they have to take at least a ½ cup serving of fruit or vegetable.
Grains

In 2013, ½ the grains offered at breakfast need to be whole grain rich

In 2014, all grains have to be whole grain rich.

 

Whole grain rich definition - Item must meet at least one of the following :

  • Whole grains per serving is 8 grams or more
  • Product packaging includes FDA’s whole grain health claim
  • Whole grain is first ingredient listed on product packaging
Grain Amounts Required

Grades K-5: Must serve 8-9 servings per week at lunch, at least 1 oz per day

  • 7-10 per week at breakfast, at least 1 oz per day (starting 2013)

Grades 6-8: Must serve 8-10 servings per week at lunch, at least 1 oz per day

  • 8-10 per week at breakfast, at least 1 oz per day (starting 2013)

Grades 9-12: Must serve 10-12 servings per week at lunch, at least 2 oz per day

  • 9-10 per week at breakfast, at least 1 oz per day (starting 2013)

 

USDA officials announced the release of new guidance which eliminates the weekly maximums for grains and proteins under the new meal pattern for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year. Calorie maximums for school meals will remain in place. Click here to access the USDA guidance document.

 

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will be making permanent the elimination of weekly maximums on grains. This final rule will be effective March 3, 2014. 

 

Once schools meet the minimum daily grain quantity of 1 ounce, they are allowed to offer a meat/meat alternative in place of grains, which counts toward the weekly grains requirement. A 1-ounce equivalent of meat/meat alternative is equal to 1 ounce of grain. The final rule does not require a meat/meat alternative daily at breakfast.

Meat/Meat Alternate

Required at lunch daily. No meat/meat alternate required at breakfast.

Tofu and soy yogurt are now allowed as meat alternates.

Meat/Meat Alternate Amounts Required (not required at breakfast)

Grades K-5: Must serve 8-10 servings per week, at least 1 oz per day

Grades 6-8: Must serve 9-10 servings per week, at least 1 oz per day

Grades 9-12: Must serve 10-12 servings per week, at least 2 oz per day

 

USDA officials announced the release of new guidance which eliminates the weekly maximums for grains and proteins under the new meal pattern for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year. Calorie maximums for school meals will remain in place. Click here to access the USDA guidance document.

 

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will be making permanent the elimination of weekly maximums on meat/meat alternates. This final rule will be effective March 3, 2014. 

Fluid Milk

Fat free can be flavored or unflavored

Low fat (1%) can be unflavored only

Fluid Milk Amounts Required For all grades, must serve 5 cups per week at breakfast and at lunch , at least 1 cup per day at each meal
  

Nutrient specifications

The daily amouts below are based on the average for a 5-day week

 Calories

Minimum and maximum calories thresholds (used to be min threshold only)

Calories can be outside of range on a given day of week, but weekly averages must be within range.

Calorie Ranges

Lunch

Grades K-5: 550-650

Grades 6-8: 600-700

Grades 9-12: 750-850

Breakfast

Grades K-5: 350-500

Grades 6-8: 400-550

Grades 9-12: 450-600

Saturated Fat No more than 10% of total calories
Trans Fat Zero grams per serving as stated on nutrition label or manufacturers specs
Sodium

Gradual implementation over 10 years to allow change in both available foods and palates.

  • 2 years to meet first target: 5-10% reduction based on recipe change
  • 5 years to meet second target: 15-30% reduction based on industry change)
  • 10 years to meet third target: 25-50% reduction
Sodium Targets  

Target 1 (2014-15)

Grades K-5 Lunch: ≤1230 Breakfast: ≤ 540

Grades 6-8 Lunch: ≤1360 Breakfast: ≤ 600

Grades 9-12 Lunch: ≤1420 Breakfast: ≤ 640

Target 2 (2017-18)

Grades K-5 Lunch: ≤935 Breakfast: ≤ 485

Grades 6-8 Lunch: ≤1035 Breakfast: ≤ 535

Grades 9-12 Lunch: ≤1080 Breakfast: ≤ 570

Target 3 (2022-23)

Grades K-5 Lunch: ≤640 Breakfast: ≤ 430

Grades 6-8 Lunch: ≤710 Breakfast: ≤ 470

Grades 9-12 Lunch: ≤740 Breakfast: ≤ 500

  Schools that meet requirements will receive an additional 6 cents per meal in reimbursement.

 

Monitoring

In addition, the final rule includes more stringent monitoring to ensure that school nutrition directors comply with the new standards. Final changes are outlined below:

 

Current

Final

Assess meals every 5 years Assess meals every 3 years
Look at 1 week menu period Look at 1 week menu period
Monitor lunch Monitor breakfast and lunch
 

Greater focus on fiscal action

 

Financial Incentive to Meal Pattern Adherence

The final changes to reimbursable school meals may pose challenges for schools that lack the infrastructure to make significant meal changes. To alleviate some of the financial burden, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 includes a provision in which school nutrition programs that comply with the final meal pattern requirements for school lunch will be eligible to receive an additional $.06 per meal in reimbursement.