Students Can Expect Healthier School Meals Next Year

01.25.2012 by Ariana Oliva

1.25.2012 Secretary Vilsack and the First Lady announced today at Parklawn Elementary School in Virginia the release of new nutrition standards for school meals. This is the first update to school meal standards in 15 years. CFPA applauds USDA’s efforts to implement science based rules and regulations that will improve the quality of school breakfast and lunch nationwide.

After careful consideration of more than 130,000 comments received on the proposed rule on school meal nutrition standards, USDA unveils a final rule, although not as strong as the proposed rule, that will change the face of the school breakfast and lunch tray starting the 2012-13 school year. The proposed rule, released nearly a year ago, included rules and regulations based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine’s report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. Several factors, however, influenced the final language of the rule. First, powerful industry groups successfully lobbied Congress to weaken USDA’s efforts to strengthen nutrition standards for school meals before USDA even issued a final rule (i.e., eliminating the limit on starchy vegetables and allowing 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to count as a vegetable).

Take a look at CFPA’s comments. PDF

Second, concerns over the potential costs of implementing the proposed nutrition standards were raised by the School Nutrition Association and some school meal providers. Both of these factors were taken into consideration by USDA. As a sign of assurance and confidence, White House Chef, Sam Kass, stated in a conference call today that although cost is a legitimate concern, “more than a 1,000 schools throughout the nation are close to or are already meeting these standards without any additional funding.” In addition to $2.79 that USDA provides schools districts for each free lunch, they will be given an additional six cents per lunch next fall for meeting the new standards. California currently provides an additional $0.22 per free and reduced price breakfast and lunch.

Major Highlights of USDA’s Final Rule:

The final rule on school meal nutrition standards is a historic milestone for child nutrition programs and sets a precedent for building healthy eating habits at school and at home. The new standards raise the minimum requirement for fruits and vegetables and whole grain items and set new guidelines for reducing sodium content.  Several important changes, such as additional fruit with breakfast and lower sodium, will be phased in over time.

Comparison of the current and new requirements for school breakfast and lunch. PDF

More information on USDA’s final rule. link

CFPA is confident that California’s school districts will lead the way by continuing to raise the bar on school menus. CFPA’s REAL School Food Initiative, which focuses on adopting strategies and policies to support the preparation of freshly prepared and minimally processed meals, is one of many initiatives we are leading to assist school districts in meeting these new nutrition standards. In addition to the $2 billion provided annually to California by USDA, the state invests over $150 million annually to support high quality cafeteria meals.

Visit CFPA’s REAL School Food Initiative page.

What can you do to bring healthier school meals to your school?

Students and parents can get involved in the menu making process. Set up a meeting with your district’s nutrition services director to start a conversation on how to work together to meet and exceed the new school meal standards. Involvement in your Local School Wellness Policy Committee is also another avenue for you, other parents and school administrators to discuss the new nutrition standards and school meal preparation practices as well as to propose ideas for new menu options.

For more information on the final rule, please contact Ariana Oliva, 213-482-8200 or

For more information on the REAL School Food Initiative, please contact Markell Lewis, 510-433-1122 or

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