USDA releases final meal pattern regulations for schools

Proposal offers students fruits and vegetables every day.

Jan. 25—The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final meal pattern regulations for school meals, as set forth by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“This is a red-letter day for American children,” Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said in a conference call.

The final proposals include:

• Offering students fruits and vegetables every day

• Increasing the amount of whole-grain-rich foods

• Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk

• Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion sizes

• Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium

Some of the changes in the final proposals include eliminating the meat/meat alternative requirement for breakfast and allowing the offer versus serve policy that many districts currently use. Under the final rules, the reimbursable lunch selected by students must include a fruit or a vegetable, beginning in school year 2012-2013. However, students may take ½ cup of fruit or vegetable, rather than a full component, to make a reimbursable meal under offer versus serve. For example, a school can offer ½ cup of fruit pieces and ½ cup of fruit juice to meet the 1 cup of fruit requirement. A student must select at least one of those two items to have a reimbursable meal under offer versus serve.

Concannon said the final meal pattern should cost $3.2 billion to implement during the next five years, nearly half what was originally estimated at $6.8 billion. The reduction is because of the changes to the breakfast requirements, including the elimination of the meat/meat alternative component, reduction in the amount of whole grain and vegetables offered and the additional time to implement changes to the school breakfast program. The only immediate change that needs to be implemented to the breakfast program is offering only fat-free or low-fat milk options. All other requirements will be phased in starting in the 2013-2014 school year.

Check back to tomorrow for additional information about the final meal pattern regulations. Have something to say about the finalized rules? Tell me what you think at

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