USDA Final Rule Loosens Milk, Sodium, Whole Grain Requirements

Dec 17, 2019

USDA Final Rule Loosens Milk, Sodium, Whole Grain Requirements

Nearly two years after the comment period ended, with more than 86,000 comments submitted, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made changes to some of the nutritional targets in its original 2012 rule, citing "USDA's commitment to assist schools in overcoming operational challenges related to the school meals regulations implemented in 2012."

In other words, they listened.

The USDA heard the school meal program operators who had persistent difficulties with the milk, grains and sodium requirements and acknowledged that, "The changes are only truly successful when all of America's school children eat and enjoy the school meals."

The challenges identified by operators included:

  • Decreased student participation and/or meal consumption
  • Difficulties preparing whole grain-rich food items
  • Limited ability to offer appealing meals with lower sodium content

In 2012, the USDA implemented regulations for school meal programs based on recommendations of the Health and Medicine Division of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly, the Institute of Medicine).

With only the best intentions at heart, this regulation did the following:

  • Increased the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Required significant increases in the volume of whole grains, and whole-grain-rich foods
  • Made fat-free and low-fat milk available in school meals
  • Created new phased-in limits for sodium levels
  • Limited saturated fats
  • Eliminated trans-fats
  • Established calorie ranges based on children's ages

Here are the old and new targets
The original 2012 rules with regard to the milk, grains, and sodium requirements looked like this: 1

  1. Original flavored milk rule: Flavoring only allowed in fat free milk in the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP)
    • Changed to: Operators may offer flavored, low-fat milk in the NSLP and SBP. For consistency across nutrition programs, it will also allow flavored, low-fat milk in the Special Milk Program for Children and in the Child and Adult Care Food Program for participants ages 6 and older

  2. Original whole grain rule: Required that, by 2015, all grains offered in in the NSLP and SBP be whole grain-rich (meaning the grain product contains at least 50 percent whole grains and the remaining grain content of the product must be enriched)
    • Changed to: Half the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich

  3. Original sodium rule: Required schools participating in the NSLP and SBP to gradually reduce the sodium content of meals offered on average over the school week by meeting progressively lower sodium targets over a 10-year period.
    • Changed to:
      • Retention of Sodium Target 1 through the end of school year (SY) 2023- 2024
      • Continuing to Target 2 in SY 2024-2025
      • Eliminating the Final Target that would have gone into effect in SY 2022-2023

Here is a summary of the new sodium targets:





≤ 540

≤ 1,230


≤ 600

≤ 1,360


≤ 640

≤ 1,420

What this means for your nutrition program

The changes you've made so far are great! And your ability to continue to offer a broad array of foods your students have learned to love will continue.

Simplot can help you meet your students' expectations.

Order a sample of some of our top school program favorites, recently getting passing grades for likeability in a school-sponsored taste test:

  • Simplot Good GrainsTM Multi-Grain Orzo, Garbanzo, and Kale Vegetable Blend: With whole-wheat pasta orzo, along with amaranth, quinoa and teff, plus garbanzo beans and kale, your students will love the nutty flavor of his grain-rich healthy alternative to plain grains.
  • Flame-Roasted Simply Sweet® Cut Corn: A big hit with students and staff! Ingredients are just like the name, super sweet corn, deliciously roasted.
  • Kyoto Vegetable Blend: A great blend of some kid-friendly favorites of edamame, carrots, corn and red bell pepper make our stir-fry a winner.
  • Tuscan Vegetable Blend: It's the key to a rockin' chicken primavera with farm-fresh green beans, yellow squash, zucchini and red bell pepper.
  • Flame-Roasted Fuji Apples: Paired with sweet potatoes, these caramelized apples' deep, rich flavor can become a cafeteria favorite, based on the 85% approval rating we've seen.
  • Western Guacamole: Available fresh or frozen, this has been a huge hit, garnering 85% "likes". This is the mildest of our five guacamole options, with just the right amount of red bell pepper, onion, sale, jalapeño pepper, garlic and lime juice.

Whatever the rules, now or in the future, we're here to help. If you have any questions, your Simplot sales representative will be happy to answer them.

1 Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements, December 12, 2018   https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/12/12/2018-26762/child-nutrition-programs-flexibilities-for-milk-whole-grains-and-sodium-requirements