Girl eating healthy lunch
Healthy meal standards are beginning to work, USDA said.

WASHINGTON – A majority of schools in the United States have met updated nutrition standards established under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the US Department of Agriculture reported.

USDA said 95 percent of school authorities were certified for performance-based reimbursement as of December 2014. The agency said students are adapting to the updated standards and are eating healthier.

“Updated healthy school meal standards were created based on the expert advice of pediatricians and nutrition experts and are being widely embraced by students, parents, educators and nutrition professionals,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “We are very encouraged that 95 percent of schools are now successfully providing more nutritious meals to their students.

The updated nutrition standards are a key component of the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Nearly 32 million children eat lunch at school every day and almost 11 million eat breakfast. USDA implemented the meal requirements to improve the health of students who eat meals at school. The updated nutrition standards include reductions in sodium content in meals, minimum and maximum calorie levels, larger portions of fruits and vegetables and more whole grains.

The changes are expected to cost an estimated $3.2 billion over five years.

“We are working with schools to provide funding, training, and flexibility so that 100 percent of schools will be able to successfully serve children healthier meals,” Vilsack said. “Now that we are so close to the finish line, it would be unwise to roll back healthy meal standards just as they are beginning to work to ensure our kids have access to the balanced, nutritious food doctors recommend.”