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USDA Releases Final School Meal Pattern Regs

The USDA has released final regulations updating the meal pattern for school breakfast and lunch. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) hailed the changes in a release.

“For over 65 years, school nutrition professionals have been feeding America’s students and constantly working to improve the nutrition and quality of the meals we serve,” said SNA President Helen Phillips. “Through healthier choices and nutrition education, school meal programs have made tremendous strides to promote better food choices for America’s students. These national nutrition standards will help school nutrition professionals build on their successes. For schools hampered by tight budgets or limited equipment and staff, School Nutrition Association will continue to provide training and support to help school nutrition professionals achieve the new meal pattern.”

“The US Department of Agriculture has devoted extensive time and effort to develop the new meal pattern,” added SNA CEO Frank DiPasquale. “Throughout this arduous process, School Nutrition Association conveyed the challenges and limitations of school nutrition directors and industry partners as they work to provide healthier choices for America’s students. We appreciate USDA’s efforts to address these concerns and look forward to continuing to support schools as they rise to meet these new standards.”

The final standards include the following changes…

• students are to be offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;

• offerings of whole grain-rich foods are substantially increased;

• only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties are to be offered;

• calories are limited based on the age of the children being served to ensure proper portion size; and

• reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium receive increased focus.

A sample lunch menu with a before and after comparison is available to view and download in PDF and JPG formats at the USDA website.

USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. USDA says it received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments on its proposed standards (available on the web at and made modifications to the proposed rule where appropriate.

“We know that robust public input is essential to developing successful standards and the final standards took a number of suggestions from stakeholders, school food service professions and parents to make important operational changes while maintaining nutritional integrity," says USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon.

The new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years, which USDA says is less than half of the estimated cost of the proposed rule and represent one of five major implemented or under development components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that are designed to reform school nutrition. In addition to the updated meal standards, improvements to come include...

• the ability to take nutrition standards beyond the lunchline for the first time to foods and beverages sold in vending machines and other venues on school campuses;

• an additional six cents a meal tied to strong performance in serving improved meals;

• pricing standards for schools designed to ensure that revenues from non-Federal sources keep pace with the Federal commitment to healthy school meals and align with costs; and

• training and technical assistance to help schools achieve and monitor compliance.

The final nutrition standards begin released will be largely phased in over a three-year period starting in the 2012-13 school Year. For example, schools will be permitted to focus on changes in the lunches in the first year, with most changes in breakfast phased in during future years.

Go here for a copy of the new regs.

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