NYC launches vegan Fridays at schools as USDA announces new nutrition standards

Read the new standards for milk, whole grains and sodium in school meals.

New York City school cafeterias will switch to an all-vegetarian menu on Fridays amid new efforts by city officials and the Biden administration to help provide essential nutrition for millions of children.

On Friday, the US Department of Agriculture announced updates to school feeding standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium in school meals.

“A nutritious school meal gives America’s children the foundation for healthy, successful lives,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “We applaud the heroic efforts of the schools during the challenges of this pandemic to continue serving children the most nutritious meals possible.”

Among some of the changes in the new policy, schools and childcare providers will now be required to offer low-fat or fat-free milk as well as increase the amount of nutrient-rich whole grains. Additionally, coming into the 2023-2024 school year, the weekly sodium limit at school breakfasts and lunches will be reduced by 10%.

In New York City, public school cafes, which have gone meatless twice a week, are making an effort to create healthy food options for students. New York City public schools will switch to an all-vegetarian menu on Fridays as part of a new policy from Mayor Eric Adams.

The initiative kicked off this week with Adams describing it as a way to improve “the quality of life for thousands of New York City students.”

“Vegetarian meals are delicious and nutritious, which is why I previously advocated for vegan and vegetarian options in schools,” Adams said in a statement. “I am happy to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions.”

Under USDA guidelines, schools will have time before the next school year begins to transition from current pandemic processes to more nutritious meals through the 2023-2024 school year. The government department said it plans to support schools with operational issues related to the pandemic now, while planning ahead with school meals stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards starting in the 2024-2025 school year.

“The standards we are setting in the next two school years will help schools transition into a future that builds on the tremendous strides they have made in improving school meal nutrition over the past decade,” Vilsack said in his statement.

Transitional standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium for pediatric nutrition programs will include several requirements starting this fall for the next full school year.

Schools and child care providers serving participants six years of age and older may offer flavored low-fat milk in addition to flavored skim milk and fat-free or low-fat unflavored milk. At least 80% of the cereal served at school lunch and breakfast each week should be wholegrain.

The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level this school year. There will be a 10% reduction in the limit for lunches in the next school year. This is in line with recent guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration that sets voluntary sodium-reducing targets for processed, packaged, and processed foods in the United States.

All other nutrition standards, including fruit and vegetable requirements, will remain the same with standards previously updated in 2012.

The USDA is required to update school feeding standards based on recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were compiled by the USDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The department says it will get input from schools and industry leaders to help inform the process.

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