On Friday, February 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced low-fat flavored milk can be offered in all schools. The final rule released last week provides transitional standards for milk, whole grains and sodium in school meals. These standards focus on gradual improvements that help achieve nutrition security, while being mindful of the ongoing challenges schools face in terms of pandemic recovery, supply chain disruptions, product availability and more.
Food hardship has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which is why ensuring access to high-quality, nutritious foods like milk, yogurt and cheese is so important. Milk is a required and vital part of school meals because it is nutrient dense, affordable, easy to consume and highly palatable, helping children meet their daily nutrient needs. Flavored milk enables schools to meet the taste preferences of students and has the potential to increase milk consumption as well as school meal participation. School meal programs play an important role as a community solution for nutrition adequacy, supporting children’s health and ability to learn.
The new standards will only affect meals offered for the next two school years (2022–2023 and 2023–2024), as USDA intends to update the meal patterns more comprehensively by mid-2023 to align with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The transitional standards, which go into effect this summer, establish the following requirements:
Milk: Flavored low-fat (1%) milk can be offered alongside unflavored fat-free and low-fat milk in schools and childcare programs (Special Milk Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program).
Whole Grains: At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole-grain rich.
Sodium: The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level in the 2022–2023 school year. For school lunch only, there will be a 10% decrease in the limit in 2023–2024. This change aligns with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recently released guidance that establishes voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed, packaged and prepared foods in the United States.
USDA is required to update school nutrition standards based on recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and intends to issue a proposed rule in fall 2022 that moves toward updating nutrition standards for the long term. USDA is requesting public input on both the transitional standards and the future broader meal pattern changes, providing a good opportunity to proactively inform bigger changes coming in 2023, including those related to existing standards. Dairy Council of California is closely monitoring these efforts, and we intend to submit public comment as appropriate. We invite you to submit public comment as well. All comments can be submitted to the online public docket now through March 24, 2022.
Source: Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO Dairy Council of California