School lunches will have less added sugar, sodium under new rule

Apr 26, 2024, 9:18 AM | Updated: 11:58 am


The final rule announced on Wednesday will be implemented in phases over the next few years.

K-12 schools serve breakfasts and lunches to nearly 30 million children every school day. These meals are the main source of nutrition for more than half of these children, according to the USDA.

While school meals are paid for by local and federal funding, the standards for what is served are set by the USDA in line with the US Dietary Guidelines. The changes announced Wednesday are the first large-scale reform of school meal standards since President Barack Obama signed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law. The Biden administration has also set forth a national strategy to end hunger and reduce diet-related disease by 2030.

Studies show that the content of school lunches really does affect the health and nutrition of school children. The changes that took effect under the Obama administration to push more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products significantly decreased kids’ and teens’ body mass index, according to one study.

The final rule is very similar to the proposal that was outlined about a year ago and considers feedback from more than 136,000 public comments and more than 50 listening sessions with state agencies, school districts, advocacy organizations, food manufacturers and more stakeholders.

Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of daily calorie intake, but data from the 2014-15 school year found that the average school lunch had 11% added sugars and breakfast had 17% added sugars. Beginning in the 2025-26 school year, certain products — including breakfast cereals, yogurt and flavored milk — will have specific limits on added sugars. By the 2027-28 school year, weekly meal calories will be capped at 10% added sugars.

While the initial proposal from the USDA suggested a gradual reduction in sodium, with three 10% cuts phased in over multiple years, the final rule requires one 15% cut in sodium in lunches and one 10% cut in sodium in breakfasts by the 2027-28 school year. Given the current sodium levels in the broader food supply, this adjustment considers the “time needed for product reformulation and for student palates to adjust,” according to the USDA rule.

The updated standards are an “important step forward” in the right direction, Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

“Added sugars are a significant source of excess calories, provide no nutritional value and may cause weight gain and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. We are thrilled to see the USDA has followed the recommendations from a 2022 citizen petition from the American Heart Association and other public health groups to include an added sugars standard in this final rule,” she said. “Although we are disappointed that the whole grain standard does not fully align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the sodium standard does not require more significant reductions, we understand recent legislation limited USDA’s ability to go further.”

School meals will continue to emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cultural and religious food preferences for balanced meals that kids want to eat, the USDA said in a news release. Beginning next school year, schools will also have the option to require unprocessed agricultural products to be locally grown, raised or caught.

“We all share the goal of helping children reach their full potential,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the news release. “Like teachers, classrooms, books, and computers, nutritious school meals are an essential part of the school environment, and when we raise the bar for school meals, it empowers our kids to achieve greater success inside and outside of the classroom.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Education + Schools

Photo courtesy of Getty Images...

Curt Gresseth

Liberal arts education is a good choice for students, says professor

Education in the liberal arts is trending down in the US, but a University of Pennsylvania professor argues for pursuing liberal arts.

2 days ago

students walk on the U of U campus,...

Aimee Cobabe

University of Utah changes policy on tuition coverage for student employees

The University of Utah is changing its policy on covering tuition costs for employees. Not everyone is pleased with this change.

3 days ago

Gardens grown at the Utah State Correctional Facility...

Heather Peterson

New department prepares inmates for life after prison

A new prison program aims to help inmates gain work skills and training to to be successful for life after prison.

3 days ago

(Copper Mountain Middle School)...

Eliza Pace

Utah seventh grader helps friend cross the finish line of school race

A Utah seventh grade student is being praised for helping his friend cross the finish line at their school race.

3 days ago

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), in collaboration with Utah State University (USU), su...

Diana Jones

Vertiports: The future is coming to Utah sooner rather than later

The Utah Department of Transportation, or UDOT, is pushing Utah into the future by taking steps to integrate vertiports around the state. But what are they? 

3 days ago

Herriman High senior Jorge Velasco getting his required hours in while cutting a West Jordan Middle...

Eric Cabrera

West Jordan Middle School opens the Lion’s Mane barbershop

The low-cost Lion's Mane barbershop will help provide haircuts to the community and experience for student barbers.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

School lunches will have less added sugar, sodium under new rule