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New School Lunch Guidelines and What you need to know

I don’t know if schools send this information home.  My kid is grown, so I’m out of the loop.  It came up in one of my news feeds, and I felt parents would appreciate being aware of it.

 

The USDA has changed the guidelines for the meals served in schools.  These changes will take the next three school years to implement, giving schools time to find products that meet the requirements. 

 

Three years to implement the changes; what does that say about the available product options?  I’ll let you decide that for yourself.

 

Only two food groups will be changing: salt and sugar.  Milk and grains will remain the same.  If you are like me, you may not even know the guidelines for those two, so I’ll start there.

 

Milk will not be changed except where added sugars are concerned.  All lunch and breakfast services must offer fat-free and low-fat milk options.  Unflavored milk is also required to be provided at all meal services.

 

Whole grains will remain the same as well.  Currently, the guidelines require that 80% of grain products must have a minimum of 50% whole grains.  The remainder of grains in each product must be enriched, bran, or germ.

 

Now, on to salt.  Salt in school foods is not measured per meal or day.  Totals are applied as averages over a school week.    The average is applied separately to lunch and breakfast and determined by grade level.

 

Salt is a little difficult to quantify in measurements that Americans can easily visualize, like teaspoons.  The good news is that salt intake over the week remains well below a teaspoon, ranging from 1/16 to 1/4 of a teaspoon respective of grade level.

 

The amount of salt reduction that will happen is small enough to not register as a change in those fractions of a teaspoon.  So here are the exact reductions in milligrams, which is how salt appears in product nutritional facts.

 

Grades K-5 will reduce from 1100 mg to 935 mg for lunch and 540 mg to 485 mg for breakfast.  Grades 6-8 will go from 1225 mg for lunch to 1035 mg and 600 mg to 535 mg for breakfast.  Grades 9-12 will change from 1280 mg to 1080 mg for lunch and 640 mg for breakfast to 570 mg. 

 

Sugar is found to be a major factor in childhood obesity.  It seems appropriate that it will go through the biggest revamping in the 2025-2026 school year.

 

Did you know that there was no limit on added sugar in school lunches and breakfasts?  I was shocked to find that out!

 

Up until now, there have only been limits for total sugar which are the sugars that naturally occur in foods.  For example, a cup of whole milk has 12 grams in the form of lactose, the sugar found in cow’s milk.

 

Added sugar is what it sounds like.  It is sweeteners, like cane sugar, that are added to foods to make them taste good.  It will now be limited in three foods:  breakfast cereals, yogurt, and flavored milk.

 

 To help you better visualize, I’ve included sugar amounts in teaspoons alongside the gram measurements used by the USDA. 

 

In the upcoming initial phase, the limitations of added sugars in breakfast cereals will be 6 grams per serving, which is 1 ½ teaspoons.  It will be 12 grams per 6 ounce serving in yogurt, equaling three teaspoons. 

 

Flavored milk is broken down by grade levels.  For elementary school students, it is 10 grams per 8 fluid ounces or 2 1/2 teaspoons.  Middle and high school students will be allowed 15 grams per 12 fluid ounces, totaling almost 4 teaspoons.

 

If you ever want to get a line on how much added sugar is in the packaged foods you eat, there is a simple formula to use.  Take the grams of added sugar and divide them by 4.  It will show you how many teaspoons are in a serving size. 

 

I’ll use a serving of Tony’s Smartpizza from Schwan’s Food Service for an example. (Schwann’s is a school food program supplier).  A slice of their cheese pizza has 2 grams of added sugar.  Divide the 2 by 4 and it comes out to 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per slice.

 

Beginning in the 2027-2028 school year, a cap will be added to these sugar limits.  Added sugars will have to be less that 10% of the calories consumed per week for the lunch and breakfast programs.  Though, it is not defined if that total is for the two together or for breakfast and lunch separately.

 

Though these guideline changes may not be considered enough, they are at least moving in the right direction.  For full details of the USDA report, click on “Summary of Provisions in the Child Nutrition Programs

 

What’s your opinion on school lunches and breakfasts?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

 

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