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.

Video byElisa Tang
February 4, 2022, 2:29 PM

New York City school cafeterias will switch to an entirely vegan menu on Fridays amid new efforts by city officials and the Biden administration to help provide critical nutrition for millions of kids.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday announced updates to school nutrition standards on milk, whole grains and sodium in school meals.

"Nutritious school meals give America’s children the foundation for successful, healthy lives," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "We applaud schools’ heroic efforts throughout the challenges of this pandemic to continue serving kids the most nutritious meals possible.”

Among some of the new policy changes, schools and child-care providers will now be required to offer low-fat or nonfat non-flavored milks as well as increase the amount of nutrient rich whole grains. Additionally, coming in the 2023-2024 school year, the weekly sodium limit in school breakfast and lunches will decrease by 10%.

In New York City, public school cafeterias, which have already gone meatless twice a week, are making an effort to create healthier food options for students. NYC Public Schools will switch to an entirely vegan menu on Fridays as part of a new policy from Mayor Eric Adams.

The initiative begins this week with Adams calling it a way to improve "the quality of life for thousands of New York City students."

"Plant-based meals are delicious and nutritious, which is why I previously called for vegetarian and vegan options in schools," Adams said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions."

Under the USDA’s guidelines, schools will have time before the upcoming school year begins to transition from current pandemic operations towards more nutritious meals that will run through the 2023-2024 school year. The government department said it plans to support schools with pandemic related operational issues now, while planning for the future with school meal stakeholders to establish long-term nutrition standards beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

“The standards we’re putting in place for the next two school years will help schools transition to a future that builds on the tremendous strides they’ve made improving school meal nutrition over the past decade,” Vilsack said in his statement.

The transitional standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium for Child Nutrition Programs will include several requirements starting this Fall for the full school year ahead.

Schools and child care providers serving participants ages six and older may offer flavored low-fat milk in addition to nonfat flavored milk and nonfat or low-fat unflavored milk. At least 80% of the grains served in school lunch and breakfast each week must be whole grains.

The weekly sodium limit for school lunch and breakfast will remain at the current level this school year. There will be a 10% decrease in the limit for lunches next school year. This aligns with the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s recently released guidance that establishes voluntary sodium reduction targets for processed, packaged, and prepared foods in the U.S.

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

The USDA is required to update school nutrition standards based on recommendations from the the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, compiled by the USDA and the U.S. 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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