Stricter nutrition standards threaten school meal program participation, funding, argues SNA

According to SNA, “an overwhelming majority”​ of the 1,368 school meal program directors nationwide who participated in a survey released yesterday said they were concerned about upcoming sodium limits that are being phased in through July 2022 as part of The Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Recognizing that reducing sodium levels would require food manufacturers to reformulate products, schools to adjust their meal plans and children’s palates to acclimate, the legislation allowed for sodium to be reduced slowly through three phases – the first of which went into effect in 2014 and third of which goes into effect next July.

Implementing reduction efforts has not been easy – even with a long runway for adjustments – and have faced regulatory opposition and legal contention​.

SNA’s survey revealing that only 26% of school nutrition directors reporting their programs are prepared to meet the current Target 2 limits​, which vary based on children’s grade levels. In addition, only 11% of survey respondents said they anticipate meeting the final target next summer.

Among the challenges to meeting the final target are concerns that students will no like reduced-sodium foods and will not want to participate in the meal program, according to SNA. High sodium levels in condiments and naturally occurring sodium in staples such as milk, low-fat cheese and meat, also hinder compliance, SNA notes.

These challenges also reveal opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers to create lower-sodium options that are still flavorful and kid-friendly but also aren’t more expensive than existing options.

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