USDA Recommends Changes to School Lunches Aimed to Reduce Sugar and Sodium

For the first time since 2012, (the Ghost of Michelle Obama), the school lunch program will see some major changes to promote healthier eating habits.

On Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly announced schools across the country that receive federal funding for school provided breakfast and lunches must reduce the amount of added sugar and sodium the meals contain to promote healthier eating habits. But, kids can still have chocolate milk.

“The purpose of this is to improve the health and welfare of our children. And I think everybody who comes to this issue shares that goal and hopefully, collectively, we can make sure it happens,” Vilsack told CNN in an interview Thursday ahead of the announcement.

The USDA wants to limit prepackaged foods such as, muffins, sweetened yogurt, and cereal starting in the 2025-2026 school year. Eventually, the guidelines would then limit added sugars across the weekly menu.

The standards would reduce sodium limits, but that would happen gradually over several school years.

“The [US Food and Drug Administration] provided some insight and direction by suggesting that it is easier for people to accept and adopt to reduced sodium if you do it over a period of time in small increments,” Vilsack said.

A gradual reduction would also give industry time to reformulate their products, said Dr. Lauren Au, an assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Nutrition who studies the effectiveness of school nutrition programs.

By fall 2027, added sugars must be less than 10% of total calories a week for school breakfasts and lunches. Sugary grain foods like muffins or doughnuts can’t be served more than twice a week at breakfast.

Another example is that an 8-ounce container of chocolate milk must contain no more than 10 grams of sugar under the revised rules. Some popular flavored milks contain twice that amount.

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