Ease Sodium, Whole Grain and Milk Requirements

Research shows children receive their healthiest meals at school. These meals meet Target 1 sodium reductions, limits on calories and saturated fat, and offer children a choice of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.* 

To preserve this progress and ensure students continue to eat nutritious school meals, Congress should:

  1. Ease the timeline to meet Target 2 sodium limits. Schools need until July 2024 to meet this goal.
  2. Eliminate unachievable Final Target mandates and empower schools that are able to voluntarily reduce sodium beyond Target 2.
  3. Restore the rule that half of all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich.
  4. Continue to permit schools to offer low-fat flavored milk, while still meeting limits on calories and saturated fat.

An overwhelming majority of school nutrition directors have expressed concerns about the impact of future sodium rules. SNA’s Back to School 2021 Survey found:

  • Only 26% report their programs are prepared to meet Target 2 limits  
  • Just 11% anticipate being able to meet the Final Target, scheduled to take effect in July 2022   
  • 74% are extremely concerned about the impact of Final Target limits on their programs, with a total of 97% expressing concern 

Among the challenges to meeting the Final Target, more than 95% of respondents cited product or ingredient availability, negative impact on student meal participation and naturally occurring sodium in foods such as milk, low-fat cheese and meat. Nearly 70% or more cited these as “significant” challenges. Limitations on scratch cooking, such as staff, infrastructure or schedule constraints, was also cited by nearly 90% of school nutrition directors as a challenge. Learn more at SchoolNutrition.org/Sodium.

In addition, nearly 70% of school nutrition directors cited challenges with the mandate that all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich. Schools struggle with regional and cultural preferences for a few specific items like white rice, tortillas or pasta, as well as product availability of specialty whole grain items.

Persistent, widespread supply chain disruptions have magnified these problems. Food companies and distributors have streamlined offerings and reduced the geographic areas they serve, leaving many meal programs without access to foods that meet highly specialized meal pattern requirements. SNA’s November 2021 Supply Chain Survey found more than 96% of respondents cited challenges with suppliers not carrying sufficient menu items needed to meet nutrition standards, such as whole-grain, low-sodium and low-fat options. Consolidation in the school nutrition industry signals the lasting impact of these disruptions on the K-12 market and the need for regulatory relief moving forward. Providing regulatory flexibility will ease menu planning challenges while ensuring students continue to receive well-balanced, nutritious school meals. 

* Pandemic waivers have allowed states to provide specific, targeted meal pattern flexibility to schools facing challenges in meeting these requirements through School Year 2021/22.

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