New Nutrition Guidelines Put Less Sugar and Salt on the Menu for School Meals

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The Sugar Association, a trade group, said it supported limiting added sugars in a weekly menu but called applying limits to individual products like flavored dairy products “arbitrary.” The group also warned that the new standards might lead to increased use of artificial sweeteners, which is not addressed but could have its own health ramifications.

Schools will need to reduce sodium in lunches by 15 percent from current levels and in breakfasts by 10 percent by the 2027-28 academic year. This was scaled back from a proposed reduction of 30 percent by the 2029-30 school year. Mr. Vilsack said the Agriculture Department was unable to more meaningfully cut salt because it was essentially handcuffed by a policy rider in a spending package Congress approved in March limiting sodium reduction in school meals.

Current standards limit sodium for students in grades K-5 to 1,650 milligrams for breakfast and lunch combined, and the policy rider essentially capped the level at 1,420 milligrams. Federal dietary guidelines recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily for children ages 4 through 8.

Dairy, too, was spared from further reductions. Students can still glug chocolate, strawberry and other flavored milks under the final rule, provided that the beverages meet the limit on added sugars.

Flavored milk was the main source of added sugars in school meals, according to the 2022 government report. The Agriculture Department had considered banning the beverages for grades K-5 under the proposed regulation. But it decided against doing so, Mr. Vilsack said, because the dairy industry “stepped up to the challenge” and is working on making flavored milk products with less sugar.

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