School Nutrition Standards Receive Historic Update

School lunches have received a historic update! On April 24, 2024, the USDA finalized its updates to the School Nutrition Standards. First proposed in February 2023, the revisions were designed to reduce diet-related diseases by limiting added sugar, reducing sodium levels, and increasing nutritional knowledge, starting at the elementary level (3).


By law, school nutrition guidelines must align with the objectives outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Although, historically, there have been no specific added sugars limits in school meal programs (5). Instead, schools have the option to serve menu items and meals that are high in added sugars as long as they meet weekly calorie limits (5). Consequently, about 70 to 80 percent of school-aged children currently exceed the recommended limit for added sugars; often consuming high-in-sugar foods like flavored milk, cereal, and yogurt (5).

To combat this alarming percentage, the following limits will be imposed starting in the 2025-2026 school year:

  • Breakfast cereals may have no more than 6 grams of added sugars per dry ounce.
  • Yogurt may have no more than 12 grams of added sugars per 6 ounces (2 grams of added sugars per ounce).
  • Flavored milk may have no more than 10 grams of added sugars per 8 fluid ounces or, for flavored milk sold as a competitive food for middle and high schools, 15 grams of added sugars per 12 fluid ounces.

In addition to the product-based limits, beginning on July 1, 2027, the USDA will issue restrictions to the overall weekly limits—limiting added sugars to less than 10% of calories across the week in the school lunch and breakfast programs (4).


Further, the USDA aims to gradually decrease sodium. For the next three school years, schools will have to maintain the current sodium limits, which apply to meals on average over the school week.

School Lunch Program Updates

Via United States Department of Agriculture

Via United States Department of Agriculture

Beginning in the 2027-2028 school year, schools will implement an approximate 15% reduction for lunch and an approximate 10% reduction for breakfast from current sodium limits (5). “The reductions will mean children eating school lunches that are in kindergarten through 5th grade will be limited to no more than 935 mg of sodium; children in grades 6th to 8th will be limited to 1,035 mg; and children in grades 9th to 12th will be limited to 1,080 mg. For breakfast, the groups will be limited to 485 mg, 535 mg and 570 mg, respectively” (4).


The USDA’s new guidelines are the first step to retraining children’s pallets. Taste preferences begin to take root early in life, laying the foundation for lifelong dietary habits. However, under the current system, children are often exposed to an abundance of sugary and sodium-filled foods from a young age. This early exposure not only influences their immediate food choices, but also sets a precedent for long-term cravings, predisposing them to seek out these unhealthy options into adulthood.

The changes to the school meal program seem to reflect a broader transition towards clean label eating. As consumers become more educated on the harms of high sugar diets and turn towards ingredient decs they understand and NFPs they favor, formulators will need to satisfy the new, health-minded consumers before they lose their trust—and business—entirely.


The distinction between truly clean label products and those merely marketed as such will become even more stark with the enactment of the FDA’s TRUTH in Labelling Act. Introduced to Congress in December 2023, the Transparency, Readability, Understandability, Truth, and Helpfulness (TRUTH) in Labeling Act would mandate the FDA create new front-of-package labels for food and beverage items. If approved in its current form, manufacturers will need to highlight added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat levels on the front of product packaging within a three-year timeframe.

The new front-of-package labels will be created in a Spotlight-Style color scheme. The red end of this scale will be calling attention to high sugar and high sodium levels (1). These new labels have already hit the European market. A study “by the Joint Research Centre concerning the effects and potential impacts of front-of-pack schemes [found that] evaluative schemes that use colour-coding, with or without a graded indicator, appear most promising in improving the nutritional quality of food choices” (5). While it’s true that these changes will push food and beverage manufacturers to reconsider their formulas, the new front-of-package labels will empower consumers to take charge of their own nutrition! The primary color scheme will transcend language, reading, and educational barriers in a way that the current black and white chart simply isn’t capable of.

An elementary school student may struggle to decipher an ingredient dec, but even they can understand that “Red” means stop.



  1. Baudendistel, Michael. “Startups Target Sugar Reduction.” FreightWaves, 20 Jan. 2023,
  2. Gingerella, Benita. “U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces Final Rule on Updated School Nutrition Standards.” FoodService Director, FoodService Director, 24 Apr. 2024,
  3. Howard, Tre’Vaughn. “USDA Proposes Limits to Added Sugars and Sodium in School Meals.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 5 Feb. 2023,
  4. Nunes, Keith, and Benton Smith. “USDA Finalizes School Meal Standards.” Dairy Processing, Dairy Processing, 24 Apr. 2024,
  5. “Nutrition Labelling.” Food Safety, European Commission, 2023,,which%20is%20also%20present%20on%20the%20Irish%20market.
  6. Summary of Provisions in the Child Nutrition Programs: Meal Patterns Consistent With the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Final Rule. United States Department of Agriculture, 42 Apr. 2024, Accessed 26 Apr. 2024.

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