USDA proposes new rule to continue to strengthen nutrition standards for school meals

MJ Kepner, Assistant Director of Federal Policy for Project Bread

School Meals

USDA Proposes To Strengthen School Nutrition Standards

In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a proposed rule to improve nutrition standards for school meals to be more in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Because of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school meals are the healthiest source of food for children, making them integral to a student’s ability to grow, learn, and thrive. (Source)

USDA school visit

Project Bread Brings A Unique Perspective To The School Nutrition Space

In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, through our Child Nutrition Outreach Program, Project Bread provides technical assistance to schools all over the state, helping them boost participation in school breakfast and summer meals. Our Community Nutrition Services program also works with school nutrition staff to produce meals from scratch that meet high nutrition standards.

Along with our work with schools, through our Health Care Partnerships program, our team of nutrition service coordinators works one-on-one with families and individuals to identify gaps in their access to healthy food.

Through the Massachusetts Flexible Services program, we connect qualifying food-insecure individuals to grocery store vouchers, kitchen supplies, home-delivered meals, cooking classes, nutrition counseling, and federal nutrition programs. Our registered dietitians, an integral part of this program, possess a combined 20 years of experience working with children and families to promote healthy eating habits.

Supporting School Nutrition Professionals

The COVID-19 pandemic forced our school nutrition professionals to go above and beyond more than they already do, navigating a transition to universal school meals and mitigating the effects of supply chain disruptions. 

It is crucial that our schools have the resources they need to take on any changes that come their way. Nutrition staff have been heroically handling tight budgets and ongoing disruptions caused by the pandemic, and we believe it’s necessary to support them with the resources that they need.

Project Bread applauds USDA for their commitment to improving child nutrition here in the Commonwealth and across the country.

school nutrition staff

Experience-Based Feedback

Where We Stand On The Proposed Rule

Project Bread approves of the proposed standards for Added Sugars and Sodium.

  • Added Sugars: The proposed standard, effective in School Year 2025-26 includes product-based limits for grain-based desserts, breakfast cereals, yogurts, and flavored milks. Beginning in School Year 2027-28, the USDA also proposes a weekly added sugars limit that must average less than 10% of calories per meal, effective School Year 2027-28.

  • Sodium: The proposed standard takes effect with two sodium reductions (10% each) for school breakfast in School Years 2025-26 and 2027-28 and three sodium reductions (10% each) for school lunch in School Years 2025-26, 2027-28, and 2029-30.


Project Bread supports maintaining the current standard that requires at least 80% of the weekly grains to be whole-grain-rich.

As for Milk, schools should be given the resources and technical assistance they need in order to incorporate non-dairy milk alternative sources of calcium and protein so that the school meal experience can be more culturally responsive for all students.

school breakfast


Project Bread commends USDA for their unwavering dedication to enhancing school nutrition and the well-being of future generations. We think the proposed rule is a step in the right direction, but it’s important to ensure school nutrition professionals have what they need to continue providing healthy school meals to all students.

For example, Congressman Jim McGovern has introduced the Healthy Meals Help Kids Learn Act (H.R. 1269), which would permanently increase the federal reimbursement level for school meals by 45 cents for every lunch served and 28 cents for every breakfast served. Higher reimbursement rates are needed for schools to have the necessary staffing, equipment, and ingredients they need, as studies show that current reimbursement rates don’t reflect the actual cost of producing healthy school meals. (Source)

Improving child nutrition is a pivotal part of this proposed rule, but we can’t forget about the other half of the equation: making sure every student has fair and equal access to those school meals. Project Bread will continue to advocate for Healthy School Meals for All here in Massachusetts and nationwide, as we see that as the best path forward toward solving childhood hunger.

Help Make Universal School Meals Permanent In Massachusetts


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