Project Bread applauds today’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding updated school nutrition standards beginning school year 2022-2023 that create stricter limits on sodium for school lunches and require the inclusion of more whole-grain-rich foods. These standards were developed after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and are intended to make school meals more aligned with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and today’s announcement better positions us to reach those goals.
As a statewide anti-hunger organization with more than 20 years of experience working to boost the participation, quality, and nutrition of school meals as a strategy to solve childhood hunger, we know that dietary behaviors established in childhood have a profound impact on lifelong health. The final guidance released by USDA today is termed a bridge rule, as it allows schools to use the next two academic years to transition to these healthier standards. It also allows USDA time to conduct a comprehensive and participatory review process before issuing a permanent rule by the 2024-2025 school year.
The updated standards, which are an improvement from the previous administration’s attempt to rollback healthier whole grain and sodium standards, are as follows:
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our school nutrition officials to go above and beyond more than they already do, navigating a transition to universal school meals and mitigating the effects of supply chain disruptions. Project Bread, which works with cafeteria staff to produce meals from scratch that meet the improved standards, maintain labor costs, and decrease plate waste, understands that we can provide our students with delicious, kid-friendly meals while meeting or exceeding these nutrition standards, so long as our school nutrition professionals have the resources that they need.
While we commend USDA for taking this important step toward healthier school meals for our children, we know that there is more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to engage with USDA throughout their regulatory process, which enters its next phase this fall, as we work toward a permanent nutrition standard update. We will continue to advocate for improved school nutrition standards and the necessary resources that our school needs to implement them as we work toward permanent healthy meals for all.