by Eleanor Reagan

Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic proves to be a major barrier to nutrition for over 30 million children relying on subsidized school meals. In addition to abrupt school closures, supply chain disruptions, staffing shortages, and rising food costs continue to threaten efforts to provide healthy, local foods to schools.

In response to these constraints, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service announced new “Transitional Standards for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium” in February 2022 that weakens nutritional standards in meals for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 school years.

Most notable of this change was the temporary roll back of whole grain-rich requirements from 100% whole grain-rich to 80% Whole Grain-Rich, a term that means at least 50% of the grains in a food are whole.

This actually means that only a meager 40% of foods in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program is expected to be made with whole grains, while the remaining weekly grains offered must be enriched. Previously, the requirement had been 100% Whole Grain Rich, or 50% whole grains in school food.

Looking forward, the USDA plans to reinstate permanent standards following this temporary rule and supports that “a return to stronger nutrition standards is imperative to support healthy eating and improved dietary outcomes.”