School Lunch Makeover

For the first time in 15 years, the USDA has made significant changes to school meals in an effort to curb childhood obesity.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Counting Calories: Breaking Down the Final Rule’s Dietary Specifications for School Meals

In addition to increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the new meal pattern regulations also added dietary specifications regarding calories, saturated fat and sodium. Here’s how those rules affect menu planning.

Calorie levels: There is now a minimum and maximum caloric range for each age group. For NSLP, this is effective SY 2012-2013. For breakfast, this is effective SY 2013-2014. The daily ranges are as follows:

For lunch: K-5 (550 to 650), 6-8 (600 to 700), 9-12 (750 to 850)
For breakfast: K-5 (350 to 500), 6-8 (400 to 550), 9-12 (450 to 600)

Saturated fat: Schools must offer breakfast and lunch meals that, on average during the school week, have less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat.

Sodium: Schools must meet a gradual reduction in sodium content of meals. This is being rolled out in three phases. Target one (SY 2014-2015) requires schools to reduce sodium content in lunches by approximately 5% to 10% from the baseline. Target two (SY 2017-2018) requires schools to reduce sodium in lunches by approximately 15% to 30% from the baseline. Target three (SY 2022-2023) requires schools to limit sodium content by approximately 25% to 50% from the baseline. (See chart on p. 27 for specific amounts.)

Tracking calories, saturated fat and sodium: State agencies will be required to conduct CREs every three years, starting SY 2013-2014, for both breakfast and lunch. The final rule requires state agencies to conduct nutrient analyses of school lunches and breakfasts as part of the review. The time period for nutrient analysis is one week, instead of the proposed two.

Trans fat: Food products and ingredients used to prepare meals must contain zero grams of added trans fat per serving (less than .5 grams per serving as defined by the FDA) beginning SY 2012-2013 for NSLP and SY 2013-2014 for SBP. This does not apply to naturally occurring trans fats.

Monitoring: State agencies must monitor compliance with the meal pattern and dietary specifications. The SMI review is eliminated. Beginning SY 2013-2014, state agencies must monitor breakfast programs. State agencies are given the ability to use fiscal action to enforce compliance with specific meal requirements.

Identification of reimbursable meal items: Beginning SY 2012-2013, schools must identify the components of the reimbursable meal at or near the beginning of the serving line(s).

Crediting: Effective SY 2012-2013, snack-type fruit or vegetables are no longer credited for reimbursable meals.
Fortification: The final rule disallows the use of formulated grain-fruit products to meet the grain and fruit components in breakfast program beginning SY 2012-2013. This rule does not prohibit the use of fortified cereals or cereals with fruit.