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USDA proposes limits to added sugars and sodium in school meals

Schools face millions in unpaid lunch debt
Schools face millions in unpaid lunch debt 02:07

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday announced proposed changes to school food guidelines that would both limit added sugars and reduce sodium limits.

"Many children aren't getting the nutrition they need, and diet-related diseases are on the rise," Vilsack said during a roundtable discussion on Friday. "Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals in a day for most kids, proving that they are an important tool for giving kids access to the nutrition they need for a bright future."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets nutrition standards for foods and beverages served in school meal programs. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the division of the USDA tasked with overseeing the National School Lunch Program, adheres to those guidelines. 

If implemented, the new standards proposed by FNS would limit added sugars in high-sugar products, allow flavored milk in certain circumstances, incrementally reduce weekly sodium limits, and emphasize products that are primarily whole grain.

According to FNS, the implementation of the new standards would consist of a gradual, multi-year approach that would begin later this year, and end in the fall of 2029. The agency said it would take into account industry partners needing time to develop and improve food products, and kids' palates to adjust.

"USDA understands that thoughtful implementation of the updates will take time and teamwork," Stacy Dean, USDA deputy under secretary, said in a statement. "We're proposing these changes now to build in plenty of time for planning and collaboration with all of our school nutrition partners."

The proposal is cited as part of the Biden administration's National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which was released last September.

Last month, the end of a pandemic-relief program to provide free meals to all of America's schoolchildren brought renewed financial hardships for families and schools already grappling with inflation.

FNS is taking public comment on the proposed changes over a 60-day period that begins Feb. 7.

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