Hoeven: USDA Finalizes Regulatory Relief Under School Meal Program

Senator Secured Commitment from Secretary Perdue to Work with Schools, Nutrition Professionals to Ease Regulations

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today issued the following statement after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finalized a rule providing regulatory relief under the federal Child Nutrition Programs. The rule was initially published last year, after Hoeven secured a commitment from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to work with him, school nutrition professionals and school districts to ease the regulations. Prior to this, Hoeven secured a provision in annual funding legislation passed last year that granted schools greater flexibility in meeting USDA’s whole grains and sodium requirements.

“Our school nutrition professionals do a tremendous job in providing healthy and nutritious meals that kids will actually eat,” said Hoeven. “The previous requirements for the federal child nutrition programs set unrealistic, one-size fits-all standards. That’s why we worked with Secretary Perdue to advance this flexibility under the final rule, which will empower schools to provide quality meals while still making their budget.”

Specifically, the rule finalized today would address requirements for: 

  • WHOLE GRAINS: Under the previous regulations, all grains offered with school meals were required to be whole grain rich – down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. While schools were able to apply for waivers, Hoeven worked to address concerns with the waiver application and provide longer-term flexibility. This rule allows for half of all grains offered to be whole-grain rich, ending the need for the exemption process.
  • SODIUM: Schools have made great strides in reducing sodium to meet Target 1 sodium levels. However, school nutrition professionals have warned that lower sodium targets will push many healthy options, like low-fat deli sandwiches, soups and salads off the menu, due in part to naturally occurring sodium in foods. In recognition of this, the rule allows schools to remain at Target 1 sodium levels through the 2023-2024 school year, giving schools additional time to meet the Target 2 requirements and adjust to sodium reduction efforts. The final sodium target is eliminated under this rule.
  • MILK: The rule gives schools the option to serve flavored low-fat milk, in addition to the currently allowed unflavored non-fat and low-fat milk and flavored non-fat milk.