Priority Policy

School Meals and Snacks

Many children consume up to half their daily calories at school, and more than 30 million participate in USDA’s breakfast and lunch programs. Thanks to updated nutrition standards, these meals are now considerably healthier.

More than 30 million children nationwide participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. For children from low-income families, school meals are an especially critical source of affordable, healthy foods; 51% of U.S. children now qualify for free and reduced-price school meals.

Students at Lawton Chiles Middle School in Seminole Co., Fla., choose from healthier a la carte options.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), the most recent iteration of the Child Nutrition Act, updated nutrition standards for school meals programs for the first time in 15 years to reflect the latest nutrition science, and increased the federal reimbursements schools receive for serving meals that meet those standards. The updated standards, which took effect in 2012, require more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fat-free and low-fat milk, and less sodium, saturated fats and added sugars. In 2018, USDA issued a final rule to roll back some of the 2012 standards, including a delay in further reductions to lower sodium levels; the reintroduction of flavored one-percent milk; and the continuation of waivers for schools to opt out of whole-grain provisions. These changes will take effect for the 2019-2020 school year.

Congress may consider a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act during its 2019-2020 session.


The following school nutrition recommendations are from are from State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, 2018 produced by Trust for America’s Health and RWJF.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should:

• Maintain nutrition standards for school meals that were in effect prior to USDA’s interim final rule from November 2017, as well as current nutrition standards for school snacks. 

• Continue to implement the Community Eligibility Provision that allows schools in high-poverty areas to serve free meals to all students, regardless of family income.  

• Support and implement local school wellness policy rules, including the provision that all foods and beverage advertisements on school campuses meet Smart Snacks nutrition guidelines.

see all recommendations

Making the Case for Healthy School Foods

Updated School Nutrition Standards Are Effective

A 2019 USDA study found that school meals are considerably healthier under the updated standards, with student participation rates in meal programs highest in schools that are serving the healthiest meals.


Parents Want Healthier Standards

More than 70 percent of registered voter parents with school-age children support the updated school meal nutrition standards, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts poll.

See Poll

Healthier Standards Can Prevent Obesity

Harvard researchers estimate the 2012 nutrition standards will prevent 2+ million cases of childhood obesity and save up to $792 million in health-care related costs over 10 years. 

See Research

Fast Facts


Nearly all schools nationwide have successfully implemented the healthier meals standards.

State Rates


Since 2009, USDA has provided more than $200 million in grants for schools to update their kitchen and cafeteria equipment.

Read More


22 million children receive free and reduced-price school lunches, approximately 75 percent of the total number of students who participate in the National School Lunch Program.

Read More