New rules would limit sugar in school meals for first time
U.S. agriculture officials on Friday proposed new nutrition standards for school meals, including the first limits on added sugars, with a focus on sweetened foods such as cereals, yogurt, flavored milk and breakfast pastries.
The plan announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also seeks to significantly decrease sodium in the meals served to the nation’s schoolkids by 2029, while making the rules for foods made with whole grains more flexible.
The goal is to improve nutrition and align with U.S. dietary guidelines in the program that serves breakfast to more than 15 million children and lunch to nearly 30 million children every day, Vilsack said.
“School meals happen to be the meals with the highest nutritional value of any meal that children can get outside the home,” Vilsack said in an interview.
The first limits on added sugars would be required in the 2025-2026 school year, starting with high-sugar foods such as sweetened cereals, yogurts and flavored milks.
Under the plan, for instance, an 8-ounce container of chocolate milk could contain no more than 10 grams of sugar. Some popular flavored milks now contain twice that amount. The plan also limits sugary grain desserts, such as muffins or doughnuts, to no more than twice a week at breakfast.
By the fall of 2027, added sugars in school meals would be limited to less than 10% of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches.
The proposal also would reduce sodium in school meals by 30% by the fall of 2029. They would gradually be reduced to align with federal guidelines, which recommend Americans aged 14 and older limit sodium to about 2,300 milligrams a day, with less for younger children.
Levels would drop, for instance, from an average of about 1,280 milligrams of sodium allowed now per lunch for kids in grades 9 to 12 to about 935 milligrams. For comparison, a typical turkey sandwich with mustard and cheese might contain 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
Health experts say cutting back on sugar and salt can help decrease the risk of disease in kids, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems that often continue into adulthood.
The plan, detailed in a 280-page document, drew mixed reactions. Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, said the changes are “necessary to help America’s children lead healthier lives.”
The proposal also would reduce sodium in school meals by 30% by the fall of 2029.