Yesterday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed rule to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast. This marked the first time in 15 years that new meal requirements were made to the school meals programs, which serves 32 million kids daily.

Before we delve further into the new nutrition standards, we thought we’d offer a quick definition of a “proposed rule.” When a federal agency is given the authority to determine regulations of any kind, the agency will submit proposed regulation, also known as a proposed rule. After the proposed rule is released, there is a designated time period for the public to weigh in on the proposed rule before it becomes law. For example, the USDA is now accepting comments on the new school meals rule until April 13, 2011.

Updating nutrition standards for school meals will make great strides in preventing and addressing our nation’s childhood obesity epidemic. No parent should ever have to worry that their child isn’t getting a healthy and nutritious meal at school. And it is absolutely unacceptable that one-third of our youth is either obese or overweight, a number that has tripled in the past few decades. This statistic alone marks a serious health concern for our nation and the future well-being of our children. Children who are obese are overweight are more likely to have risk factors associated with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and, even diseases that have previously gone undiagnosed in children like, Type 2 diabetes. Investing early in a child’s nutrition provides a lifetime of benefits not only for their health but for our nation’s future.

Yesterday’s proposed USDA rule will make the following improvements to school meals:

  • Establishes the first ever calorie limit for school meals;
  • Calls for more servings of fruits and vegetables;
  • Requires all milk served to be low fat or nonfat, and require all flavored milks to be nonfat;
  • Increases the amount of whole grains required and eventually requiring most grains to be whole grains;
  • Bans most trans fats
  • Improves school breakfasts by requiring schools to serve a grain and a protein, instead of one or the other;
  • Gradually reduces the amount of sodium in meals over the next 10 years.

To help schools cover the cost of increased nutrition standards, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in December, increased the reimbursement rate for every school meal that is sold in schools. The proposed nutrition updates affect the meals that are served to kids through the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and do not affect foods sold outside of the school meals program, such as in school vending machines. Additionally, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, for the first time, gave the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to regulate food sold out side of the school meals programs. The USDA will issue another proposed rule in the near future regarding other foods sold in schools.

For more information on USDA’s new proposed rule and nutritious school lunches: