By Jiyoon Chon, NFSN Communications Manager

National Farm to School Network is excited to highlight new updates to the nationwide school meal standards that go into effect today, July 1, 2024. In April, the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) had announced a significant update to the nutrition standards and meal patterns for school programs, many of which are now going into effect. These changes are a win for farm to school and all of us advocating for culturally relevant and inclusive meals in schools, early care, and out-of-school programs.

You might have seen headlines about sodium and added sugar reductions in school meals, but we want to spotlight something equally impactful: new measures that support culturally relevant meals and accommodate diverse dietary needs. 

Here’s a look at what these changes mean:

Key changes in the final rule

  • Recognition of Traditional Indigenous Foods: Starting July 1, 2024, schools can include traditional Indigenous foods as part of reimbursable meals. These foods are defined as those traditionally prepared and consumed by American Indian tribes, such as wild game meat, fish, seafood, marine mammals, plants, and berries. This explicit definition of traditional Indigenous foods is an important step toward ensuring these foods are officially recognized in meal programs. Learn more about the regulation in the final rule here
  • Flexibility in Serving Vegetables to Meet Grains Requirement: Schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education or those serving primarily American Indian or Alaska Native children can now serve vegetables to meet the grains requirement. This flexibility extends to schools in Guam and Hawai’i, allowing them to offer culturally relevant vegetables like yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes in place of grains. This is an important milestone in recognizing and celebrating the foods that align with students’ cultures in school meals. Learn more about the regulation in the final rule here
  • Expanded Use of Plant-based Proteins: Starting July 1, 2024, beans, peas, and lentils can count towards both the “meats/meat alternates” and the weekly vegetable subgroup requirements as long as they are being served alongside additional vegetables to meet meal component requirements. Nuts and seeds can also now fulfill the entire “meats/meat alternates” component, whereas before they could only fulfill half the component. These are positive changes that will better support students with various dietary preferences or needs, while encouraging a greater variety of protein sources in school meals. 
  • Inclusive Modifications for Special Dietary Needs: The rule also expands who can write medical statements to request meal modifications to include any individual authorized to write medical prescriptions under State law, including registered dieticians (starting July 2025). The rule goes further to divide meal substitutions into either disability or non-disability requests, with lactose intolerance qualifying as a disability to make a required modification request. This is an inclusive step forward for racial equity in meal programs. For example, students of African American, Native American, and Asian American descent may more often have dietary needs like lactose intolerance that don’t fit Eurocentric assumptions on diet patterns.  

These updates are more than just regulatory tweaks—they're a step toward making school meals more inclusive and reflective of the diverse cultures in our communities. By clarifying that Child Nutrition Programs will reimburse certain products, schools now have clearer authority to source these items from local or Tribal producers. 

Examples of culturally relevant school meals from our Partners

Schools around the nation are making a greater effort to serve culturally relevant meals in the cafeteria. Here are a few of the many examples from our Partner organizations currently serving culturally relevant meals to students: 

Culturally Relevant Meals for Hmong Students in Stevens Point, Wisconsin 

In Wisconsin, Farmshed and CAP Services Hmong UPLIFT Program are partnering on the Sib Pab (Helping Hands) meal program, which provides culturally appropriate meals to Hmong elders and community members with disabilities. The Sib Pab program has expanded to also serve Hmong students in local schools! The program is currently being piloted with students in SPASH in Stevens Point, WI, offering menu items such as curry, sweet pork, and boiled pork. Read more about this program in this article here

Culturally Diverse Meals and Sustainably Caught Salmon in Seattle Public Schools

In the past few years, Seattle Public Schools has featured a variety of culturally diverse meals in their school menus, including: 

  • Mushroom adobo lugaw (congee) with local mushrooms, chives, and green onions. 
  • Tofu & bok choy stir fry with local mushrooms and locally grown bok choy, a regular rotating lunch menu item! 
  • Local, sustainably caught salmon sourced from Muckleshoot Seafood Products, a tribal enterprise. The salmon was used in a salmon alfredo and salmon burger, and while these are not culturally specific dishes, the salmon itself is certainly a culturally relevant ingredient for the Pacific Northwest region. You can read more about this partnership here

Ulu (breadfruit) in Hawai’i Schools:

Hawai’i is home to many unique foods that are culturally significant to the islands, one of them being ’ulu, also known as breadfruit. ’Ulu is a starchy fruit that has been a staple food in Hawai’i for centuries. As a versatile crop that can be baked, boiled, fried, mashed, turned into flour, or roasted, ’ulu is high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins, making it a nutritious food source. 

The presence of ’ulu in school meals has been increasing over the past few years. Since 2012, Kōkua Hawai’i Foundation and the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden have been planting ’ulu trees, which begin bearing fruit in 2-3 years, in schools and teaching students about Indigenous agriculture. The local food hub Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Cooperative is a registered vendor with the Hawai’i public school system. In the past, their ’ulu was featured on school menus and they also support educational activities. Read more about the significance of ’ulu and other indigenous Hawaiian foods in our Culture and Values in Hawai’i Farm to School Policy spotlight. 

The new USDA regulation surrounding relaxed grain rules is particularly relevant for Hawai’i because ’ulu is often served as a starchy grain, and can now officially be served to meet the grain requirement in school meals! 

Share Your Story

Do you have a story or a question about these new meal patterns? Want to share how culturally relevant meals are making a difference in your community? Reach out to us! Your insights can help us spread the word and make these updates a success.

For any questions or to share your experiences, contact NFSN’s Policy Director at or get in touch with our Policy Specialists, Ryan Betz ( and Cassandra Bull (