school lunch
The new seven-year plan that will mean donuts and muffins can only be served twice a week

New guidelines will significantly reduce the amount of sugar and sodium US children are consuming in their school lunches and breakfasts. Nutrition standards for school lunches proposed Friday will limit the amount of added sugars in cafeteria meals. It is the first time these types of restrictions will be put in place.

New standards will go into place in the 2025-26 school year. It will reduce sugar in goods such as chocolate milk, cereal and yogurt. It will also limit the number of times per week sweets such as pastries will be made available for breakfast.

Officials say that more than 15million children eat breakfast and 30million eat lunch at school each day. They want these meals to meet national food guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 19.7 percent of US children are obese, as many experts have described it as a crisis

The plan announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also seeks to significantly decrease sodium in the meals served to the nation's schoolkids by 2029 while making the rules for foods made with whole grains more flexible.

'School meals happen to be the meals with the highest nutritional value of any meal that children can get outside the home,' Vilsack said in an interview.

The first limits on added sugars would be required in the 2025-2026 school year, starting with high-sugar foods such as sweetened cereals, yogurts and flavored milk products. Under the plan, for instance, an 8-ounce container of chocolate milk could contain no more than 10 grams of sugar. Some popular flavored milk now contain twice that amount.

The plan also limits sugary grain desserts, such as muffins or doughnuts, to no more than twice a week at breakfast.

By the fall of 2027, added sugars in school meals would be limited to less than 10 percent of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches.
The proposal also would reduce sodium in school meals by 30 percent by the fall of 2029.

They would gradually be reduced to align with federal guidelines, which recommend Americans aged 14 and older limit sodium to about 2,300 milligrams(mg) a day, with less for younger children. Levels would drop, for instance, from an average of about 1,280mg of sodium allowed now per lunch for kids in grades 9 to 12 to about 935mg.

For comparison, a typical turkey sandwich with mustard and cheese might contain 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

Health experts say cutting back on sugar and salt can help decrease the risk of disease in kids, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems that often continue into adulthood.

The plan, detailed in a 280-page document, drew mixed reactions.

Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, said the changes are 'necessary to help America´s children lead healthier lives.'

But Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a trade group, said school meals are already healthier than they were a decade ago and that increased regulations are a burden, especially for small and rural school districts.

'School meal programs are at a breaking point,' she said. 'These programs are simply not equipped to meet additional rules.'

Vilsack emphasized that the plan phases changes in over the next six years to allow schools and food manufacturers time to adjust to the new standards.

'Our hope is that many school districts and food providers accelerate the timeline on their own,' he said.

Courtney Gaines, president of the Sugar Association, said the proposal ignores the 'many functional roles' sugar plays in food beyond sweetness and encourages the use of sugar substitutes, which have not been fully studied in children.

Sugar substitutes are allowed under the new standards, Vilsack said.

Comment: And here's where it goes off the rails.

Sugar substitutes are often more harmful than real sugar (which at least started out as something resembling food). Even stevia and monk fruits can have their issues, should a school district even bother with such pricey ingredients. No, the go-tos will be cheap chemical-based sweeteners such as saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Popular brands are Equal, Nutrasweet, Splenda, and Sweet'N Low.

As part of the plan, agriculture officials are seeking feedback about a proposal that would continue to require that 80 percent of all grains offered in a week must be whole grains. But it would allow schools to serve non-whole grain foods, such as white-flour tortillas, one day a week to vary their menus.

Another option suggests serving unflavored nonfat and lowfat milk to the youngest children and reserving chocolate and other flavored milks for high school kids.

A 60-day public comment period on the plan opens Febuary 7.

Shiriki Kumanyika, a community health expert at Drexel University´s Dornsife School of Public Health said if they're done right some of the changes will be hard for kids to notice.

'They´ll see things that they like to eat, but those foods will be healthier,' she said.

Via Associated Press