Healthier School Meals

Getting Good Foods on Kids’ Trays: Raising the Nutrition Standards for School Meals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the National School Lunch program in 1946. Since that time, USDA has overseen federal school meal programs, which expanded to include a federally-funded school breakfast program in the 1960s. USDA has always set the nutrition standards for these meals in accordance with the latest nutrition science. Schools must meet these guidelines in order to be reimbursed for the cost of the meals they serve.

The nutrition standards for meals were last updated in January 2012—the first update since 1995. As a result, this fall students around the country are seeing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on the menu, as well as less saturated fat and sodium. Under the updated standards, meals are high in nutrients, provide sufficient calories and reflect the appropriate balance between food groups.

Because the last update to the standards took place more than 15 years ago, this school year will be one of transition and learning for schools and students as they adjust to the changes. Thousands of schools around the country have been making healthy changes to their menus in recent years and are already succeeding in providing healthy meals that students enjoy. Schools that are just beginning to implement the new guidelines will be able to learn from those that took the early lead.