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USDA Announces New School Meal Standards

Santa Fe Community College Cafeteria
S. Baxter Clinton
Santa Fe Community College Cafeteria

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced changes to the standards for school meals that will begin implementation in Fall of 2025.

Vilsack says the president's administration is committed to nutrition.

“As folks know, the Biden Administration has been committed to expanding food and nutrition security for all Americans, especially our children. This is certainly reflected in the goals of the White House conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, and in a speech I gave at Columbia University several years ago, outlining the need for us to focus on not just food security but also nutrition.”

He says these rule changes will emphasize some standing standards.

“It is a rule that continues the emphasis of the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act on whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The sodium level that is established here is very consistent with congressional directive. This is a rule that puts a significant focus on reduced added sugars. I think it's an important step forward in terms of improving nutrition for our youngsters, particularly focused in areas, such as breakfast programs.”

Vilsack said there's collaboration with the dairy industry to offer options kids enjoy.

“We continue to work with the dairy industry to provide options of flavored and unflavored milk but with the new limit on added sugar that's been formulated by the industry that will obviously reduce the sugar that's in that flavored milk.”

He said there are economic and community opportunities.

“We continue to look for ways we can partner with producers and with local and regional food systems so we create additional market opportunities for farmers and ranchers in the area. But also create a better connection between those that produce the food and those who consume it.”

Vilsack said school meals are important.

“First of all I believe it is important to underscore that school meals matter, they matter for the students who consume them. In some cases, and in many cases, far too many cases, this often is the only meal or meals that youngsters may get during the day. It matters, to them and to their families."

Mary Beth Cochran, a grandmother from North Carolina, spoke in support of this rule. Cochran helps care for 4 of her grandchildren and receives SNAP Benefits and partial disability, that she supplements with working part time for 7.25 an hour. She is supported by her grandkids being able to eat at school.

"The free breakfast and lunches that my grandkids eat at school are a huge relief. Honestly I don't know what we would do without school meals, it gives me so much peace of mind to know that no matter what, the kids will eat two balanced meals five days a week at school. So I'm thrilled the USDA is taking action to raise nutrition standards for school meals.”

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.