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Enhancing School Meals: Understanding the Latest Changes

At School Food and Wellness Group, we understand that navigating policy changes can be challenging. Recognizing the importance of policy clarity, we have thoroughly familiarized ourselves with the latest USDA nutrition standards so your program can continue operating compliantly. Our commitment to staying informed allows us to provide comprehensive insights to ensure that you are all well-informed and equipped to understand these significant changes.  

As we know, school meals play a vital role in nutrition for students across the country and over the past decade, efforts from various stakeholders, including school nutrition professionals, parents, and the USDA, have led to significant improvements in the nutritional quality of school meals. Recently, the USDA introduced new regulations titled, "Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans," aimed at further enhancing the health of school meals and advancing nutrition security. 

Here’s a breakdown of the major changes, focusing on added sugar, milk, whole grains, and sodium: 

 Added Sugars 

  • Current Requirements: There are currently no added sugar limits in school meal programs, though schools must adhere to total sugar limits. 

  • Changes in the Final Rule: The final rule establishes limits for added sugars in school meals. These limits will be gradually phased in by 2025-2027 to align with dietary guidelines. The aim is to reduce added sugars while maintaining taste. 

    • Breakfast cereals: Max 6g added sugars/oz

    • Yogurt: Max 12g added sugars/6 oz (2g/oz)

    • Flavored milk: Max 10g added sugars/8 Fl oz, or 15g/12 fl oz for school sales 


  • Current Requirements: Schools can offer fat-free and low-fat milk, flavored and unflavored, in reimbursable meals. 

  • Changes in the Final Rule: The final rule maintains the current milk requirements, allowing schools to continue offering various milk options. However, flavored milk must comply with added sugar limits by 2025-2026 to promote healthier options. 


Whole Grains 

  • Current Requirements: At least 80% of weekly grains must be whole grain-rich. This means the grain product must contain at least 50% whole grain. 

  • Changes in the Final Rule: The final rule maintains the requirement for whole grains, clarifying the definition of whole grain-rich. This provides flexibility for schools to accommodate student preferences while promoting whole grain-rich foods. 

    • Whole Grain-Rich: “Whole grain-rich is the term designated by FNS to indicate that the grain content of a product is between 50 and 100 percent whole grain with any remaining grains being enriched”. 


  • Current Requirements: Schools must meet specific sodium targets for school meals. 

  • Changes in the Final Rule: The final rule allows schools until 2027-2028 to gradually reduce sodium levels in meals. This phased approach aims to balance health objectives with practical considerations, such as food product availability and student preferences.  

National School Lunch Program Sodium Limits 

Age/Grade Group 

Current Sodium Limit: 

In Place through June 30, 2027 

Sodium Limit: 

Must be implemented by July 1, 2027 

Grades K-5 

≤ 1,110 mg 

≤ 935 mg 

Grades 6-8 

≤ 1,225 mg 

≤ 1,035 mg 

Grades 9-12 

≤ 1,280 mg 

≤ 1,080 mg 

School Breakfast Program Sodium Limits  

Age/Grade Group 

Current Sodium Limit: 

In Place through June 30, 2027 

Sodium Limit: 

Must be implemented by July 1, 2027 

Grades K-5 

≤ 540 mg 

≤ 485 mg 

Grades 6-8 

≤ 600 mg 

≤ 535 mg 

Grades 9-12 

≤ 640 mg 

≤ 570 mg 


These new changes to school meal regulations reflect a commitment to improving the nutritional quality of meals while considering practical constraints and stakeholder feedback. While it may be challenging to ponder how this will impact student participation, by gradually implementing these changes and providing a nutrition education component, we believe schools can continue to provide nutritious meals that support the health and well-being of students nationwide. 

Our team is available to answer any questions on this major update to the meal pattern requirements. Reach out to us at to schedule some time today! 


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