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about 1.9 billion pounds of food is distributed through the Commodity Distribution Program on a yearly basis.40

Currently, schools must offer meals consistent with the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Act Amendments.41 These regulations require that school meals provide a minimum percentage of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for calories, protein, iron, and vitamins A and C, while ensuring that total fat and saturated fat comprise less than 30 and 10 percent of calories, respectively. Under current regulations, it is recommended that schools work to decrease the level of sodium in the meals they serve, but no specific sodium levels are established (USDA/FNS, 1995). A recent IOM (2009) report focused on updating the nutrition standards to be more consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The report recommends a gradual stepwise approach for reducing sodium in school meals in hopes of making changes indiscernible to participants and feasible for restaurant/foodservice operators and suppliers.

To help schools reduce the sodium content of meals, they are offered lower-sodium foods through the USDA’s Commodity Distribution Program. In the past, the Commodity Distribution Program’s Commodity Improvement Council conducted a review to identify potential reductions in fat, sodium, and/or sugar levels of products. Sodium modifications were adopted for 10 products. Significantly, however, other products were excluded from further change due to the belief that recipients would find additional modifications unacceptable (USDA, 1995). More recently, USDA has been looking to further decrease the sodium content of some of these products as well as various cheeses.42

USDA also encourages elementary schools to improve the nutritional content of the foods provided to children through the HealthierUS School Challenge. Started in 2004, the program encourages and recognizes changes in the school nutrition environment, including providing lower-sodium foods to school-age children and youth. The criteria reflect the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and require foods to contain < 480 mg of sodium per non-entrée or < 600 mg of sodium per entrée to receive recognition. A gold award of distinction, the highest level of recognition, is awarded if non-entrées contain < 200 mg of sodium and entrées contain < 480 mg.43 So far, 275 schools have earned lower levels of recognition. However, only


Available online: (accessed November 24, 2009).


Public Law 94-105, 1975.


Personal communication, R. Orbeta, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, November 10, 2008.


Available online: (accessed November 16, 2009).

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