Updated School Meal Rules Limit Added Sugars for the First Time

The final rule also trims sodium in kids' meals, although not by the amount first proposed last year.

Second-grade students select meals in the cafeteria of an elementary school in Scottsdale, Ariz., Dec. 12, 2022.
Second-grade students select meals in the cafeteria of an elementary school in Scottsdale, Ariz., Dec. 12, 2022.
AP Photo/Alberto Mariani, File

The nation's school meals will get a makeover under new nutrition standards that limit added sugars for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday.

The final rule also trims sodium in kids' meals, although not by the 30% first proposed in 2023. And it continues to allow flavored milks β€” such as chocolate milk β€” with less sugar, rather than adopting an option that would have offered only unflavored milk to the youngest kids.

The aim is to improve nutrition and align with U.S. dietary guidelines in the program that provides breakfasts to more than 15 million students and lunches to nearly 30 million students every day at a cost of about $22.6 billion per year.

"All of this is designed to ensure that students have quality meals and that we meet parents' expectations," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters.

The limits on added sugars would be required in the 2025-2026 school year, starting with high-sugar foods such as cereal, yogurt and flavored milk. By the fall of 2027, added sugars in school meals would be limited to no more than 10% of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches, in addition to limites on sugar in specific products.

Officials had proposed to reduce sodium in school meals by as much as 30% over the next several years. But after receiving mixed public comments and a directive from Congress included in the fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill approved in March, the agency will reduce sodium levels allowed in breakfasts by 10% and in lunches by 15% by the 2027-2028 school year.

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