By Karen Spangler, NFSN Policy Director

On April 25, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final rule for its updates to the Child Nutrition Program (CNP) standards. This rule will impact meals served in schools and early childhood settings by setting the requirements for important nutrients, meal patterns and types of foods, operations, and purchasing that programs must meet to be reimbursed by USDA. 

Specifically, this update covers the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, summer food programs, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program for early childhood, after-school, and adult care settings. 

National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is proud to see that a number of our longtime policy priorities were adopted in the rule, including buying local, strides in equity, and better career access. This major win is an outcome of many years of NFSN and our movement’s collective advocacy to advance farm to school and an equitable food system, and we are excited to share these updates.  

Below are some top takeaways from this comprehensive update. Over the next few months, NFSN will continue to promote awareness and support our Partners in these important changes.

  • Timing: This rule will be in effect as of July 1, 2024. However, many requirements specifically phase in over time to give child nutrition program operators and vendors time to prepare. Programs will not be required to make new menu changes until School Year 2025-2026.
  • Local Procurement: Starting in July, child nutrition programs will now be able to use “locally grown,” “locally raised,” or “locally caught” as a specification requirement for fresh and minimally processed food items. Under current rules, local food can be preferred in bid scoring criteria but bids cannot specify a food must be local. This change simplifies the geographic preference process for child nutrition programs, making it easier to purchase local foods.
  • Native Foods: USDA strengthens its previous guidance that traditional Indigenous foods may be served in reimbursable school meals by including it in this rule. The regulation’s definition of “traditional” means any food that has traditionally been prepared and consumed by an American Indian Tribe, including wild game meat, fish, seafood, marine animals, plants, and berries. It also finalizes the proposal to allow vegetable substitution for grains in programs serving American Indian or Alaska Native students, and in Guam and Hawai’i.  
  • Nutrient Targets: This rule lowers sodium limits in 2027 (15 percent for lunch and 10 percent for breakfast) and establishes limits on added sugars for the first time in yogurt, cereal, and flavored milk, as well as a weekly limit of no more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars in school lunch and school breakfast. This rule does not include their proposed limit on added sugars for grain-based desserts at breakfast in items like pastries or granola bars; USDA will continue to seek input on how to address these items. 
  • School Nutrition Profession: The rule finalizes the proposed flexibility for hiring an individual without a bachelor’s or associate’s degree as a school nutrition program director, if they have at least 10 years of school nutrition program experience. 
  • Buy American: The rule strengthens the requirement for school meals to buy domestic products by providing greater specificity on how product exceptions may be applied, sets documentation and contract requirements, and creates a phased-in limit on non-domestic food purchases.
  • Plant Proteins: It supports flexibility to include plant proteins such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, or prepared foods like hummus, in reimbursable meals and snacks. This change not only supports a healthy variety of protein options, but can also help programs better serve students with religious or dietary needs.

As with the proposed rule, the final regulation covers many detailed areas of Child Nutrition Program compliance. For more information on specific requirements, consult these USDA resources:

This rule is the culmination of a decade-long process to bring the nutrition standards for meal programs in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations on components like salt, sugar and fat. This alignment has been required by law since 2010 but is only now being fully implemented through this final durable rule (“durable” is a term in regulation to differentiate from a transitional rule that is expected to be replaced). 

We applaud USDA for its careful consideration of the more than 100,000 comments it received in response to the proposed rule during the comment period last year, and appreciate the challenge of crafting an approach that supports children’s health and recognizes the constraints under which programs operate.   

We look forward to hearing from our Partners and other stakeholders in the farm to school movement about how this rule will impact you. If you have a story you would like to share with NFSN to help us communicate how these updates will affect local purchasing, the meal patterns you offer, or the success of Child Nutrition Programs, we would like to hear from you! Please reach out to Policy Director Karen Spangler ( or Policy Specialist Ryan Betz ( to get in touch.