Below you will find actions that you can take at the federal, state, and local level. Help make a difference and get involved. In addition to legislative action, you can Create Change in your own local school district. Your voice does matter, and you can make a difference!
Action Alert: Call or Write
USDA School Nutrition Standards:
The USDA has proposed updates to the School Nutrition Standards. You can see a comparison chart of the current versus proposed rules here. You can learn more and make comments here. Please note that you can comment on their proposed changes, but you can also add your own desired changes.
- Added sugars – we’ve seen school breakfasts with more than 50 grams of added sugars.
- Please support the limitations on added sugars.
- Milk – the USDA is asking for input on two options – 1. Unflavored milk only for grades K-5 or K-8, OR 2. Flavored milk allowed in all grades. The added sugar limit would apply to flavored milks. This is what we are asking for and hope you will join us in making these requests:
- Ask the USDA to ban flavored milk in ALL grades K-12.
- Ask the USDA to offer non-dairy milk without the need for a parent/caregiver or doctors note.
- Remove the stringent guidelines for non-dairy milks that require it to be nutritionally equivalent in many nutrients to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is not a healthy standard.
- Grains – the USDA is asking for input on two options – 1. Keep the current standard which is that 80% of the grains need to be “whole-grain rich” which actually means 40% of the grains need to be whole grain. (Whole Grain Rich is an industry term to make their products look healthier than they really are – if you want to know what percentage of a product is actually whole grain, dividie the whole grain rich number in half) or 2. Require 100% of grains to be “whole-grain rich” which actually means that 50% of the grains would be whole grain.
- Ask the USDA to stop using the term “Whole-Grain Rich”.
- Ask the USDA to make 80% of the grains actually whole grain (as opposed to 80% whole grain rich which means 40% whole grain).
- Allow starchy vegetables to count as a whole grain, such as: sweet potatoes, potatoes (not deep fried), and winter squash.
- Sodium – The USDA is asking for 2 reductions for sodium for breakfasts by 10% each time in 2025-2026 and again in 2027-2028 and 3 reductions in sodium by 10% each for lunches in the years 2025-2026, 2027-2028, and 2029-2030. In 2010 new regulations were made for sodium with three reduction periods which were supposed to be complete in 2023. These new regulations do not go as far as the original reductions, but get school meals back on track to have less sodium.
- Ask the USDA to implement the new proposed sodium limits.
- Menu Planning Options for American Indian and Alaska Native Students – The USDA would like to allow vegetables to meet the grain requirement in tribally operated schools.
- Ask the USDA to allow starchy vegetables to count as the grain requirement in all schools, not only tribally operated schools.
- Traditional Foods – The USDA would like to explicitly state that traditional foods can be served as part of a reimbursable meal.
- Ask the USDA to explicitly state that traditional foods can be served as part of a reimbursable meal.
- Nuts & Seeds – The USDA would like to allow nuts and seeds to count toward 100% of the “Meat/Meat Alternate (M/MA)” requirement. This is good because previously, given a two-ounce M/MA requirement, schools could serve a 1-ounce bag of sunflower seeds, for example, but then needed a 1-ounce equivalent of some other food that qualifies as a M/MA, for example legumes, cheese, or meat, and most of the time it wasn’t legumes!
- Ask the USDA to allow Nuts & Seeds to count toward 100% of the M/MA requirement.
- Ask the USDA to modify the one-ounce equivalent for nut butters. Currently, a one-ounce equivalent of nut butter is two tablespoons. That makes a two-ounce equivalent is four tablespoons. That is too much, and results in waste. Ask the USDA to make the nut butter 1-ounce equivalent 1 tablespoon, so that the required two-ounce equivalent is two Tablespoons which is a standard serving size and therefore in alignment with the US Dietary Guidelines, which the school meal program is supposed to reflect.
- Competitive Foods Hummus Exemption – Adds hummus to the list of foods that are exempt from the total fat standard in the Smart Snack Regulations.
- Ask the USDA to add hummus to the list of foods that are exempt from the total fat standard in the Smart Snack Regulations. This refers to snacks and not to hummus served during a meal.
- Geographic Preference Expansion – Allows locally grown food to be used as procurement specification to make it easier to purchase local foods.
- Ask the USDA to allow locally grown food to be used as a procurement specification.
Universal Free Meals
The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 (S. 1530 / H.R. 3115), introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN) and Gwen Moore (WI), would ensure that every child has access to free meals at school, after school and during the summer, regardless of income. This critical program would reduce childhood hunger, enhance school readiness among children, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement. The bill did not pass and become law. Please call your Congressional Representative today to voice your support for Universal Free Meals. During the first few years of the pandemic, all US public schools had Universal Free Meals, but that stopped in June of 2022. Some states have enacted Universal Free Meals bills, including California, Colorado and Maine. Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont have Universal Free Meals for the 2022 – 2023 school year.
US Dietary Guidelines: (More Coming Soon)
The US Dietary Guidelines are updated every five years. They are the public food policy for the United States and are the basis of nutrition education in schools and other places, and of food served in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. Learn more about the Guidelines and the process here, and we’ll be back with recommendations for written comments, and share with you how to make comments.
New York State: S996/ A3708
Relates to requiring public schools to offer plant-based food options in food service
Bill in New York State introduced by League of Humane Voters of New York that would require schools to provide a plant-based meal at the request of students or persons in parental relation to students. Elected officials are concerned that it would cost more but schools tell us that plant-based meals cost less or are at least cost-neutral. In New York City, the food cost for the vegetarian menu, at least at a point in the past, is 9 cents less than the standard menu. In Ithaca, the cost is cost-neutral. Based on the cost of the various menus in New York City, if they switched all schools to vegetarian menus, they could save over $10 million dollars per year. We are actively working in partnership with Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to advocate for the bill. Please contact (this link will take you to an easy PCRM form to fill out) your New York State Senator and Assemblyperson now and urge them to pass this law. Click on the bill numbers above to read the bills. If you are a school district, a Food Service Director, or a business that would be positively impacted by this bill (for example, bean farmers), you can sign on to a letter to show your support. If you would like us to send you that letter for your review, please email us. The state of Illinois recently passed a similar bill.
S4311 / A959
Relates to prohibiting the operation of establishments where animals and/or fowls are slaughtered and butchered for food.
Bill in New York State that would suspend the operation of live animal markets and create a task force on the public health risks and animal welfare concerns of slaughterhouses. Currently, the bill is in the Senate and Assembly Committees on Agriculture. The purpose of the proposed law is to eliminate live animal markets, a potential breeding ground for the transmission of zoonotic diseases. Many of these poorly regulated markets operate in close proximity to schools, homes and parks. These establishments have been issued violations by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for offenses including leaving animal blood and feces on public sidewalks, allowing grime to accumulate on butchering equipment, and other unsanitary conditions.
Not only are these markets cruel to the animals killed there (chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, cows and others), but they are hazardous to the health of the employees that work there and the customers who frequent them. Please let your legislators know your support the passage of this important legislation.
For both state bills:
Find your NY Senator’s email address here: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator
Find your NY Assembly Member’s email address here: https://nyassembly.gov/mem
There probably won’t be local laws passed to change the food in your local district, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference and effect change. It’s important to be strategic in approaching a local school, for example should you approach the food service director, the superintendent, a school board member, or a principal? It’s important to do your research and know something about the person you are going to reach out to. If the food service director has a history of being resistant to change, then starting with that person might not be the best choice (though we find most food service directors open to change, not all are). New York City works quite differently from many other school districts, so speaking with the mayor’s office, the borough president’s office, or your local council member could make a difference. What can you ask local schools to do? Check out our Create Change section.