2015 Dietary Guidelines and What they Mean for Schools


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide science-based recommendations that are used in the development of federal nutrition policies and programs, including the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. The first guidelines were published in 1980 and are reviewed and updated every five years. The current guidelines were released in January 2016 with a continued focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and low fat dairy. The new guidelines also include a new emphasis on eating patterns.

The meal pattern for school meals, which consists of offering minimum daily and weekly amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein and diary, was developed based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and written into the current law governing school meal programs, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Every five years Congress reviews these laws and has the opportunity to make changes through a process known as reauthorization. Reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is underway and currently there are no proposed updates to the meal pattern based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The meal pattern will continue to offer students a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein-rich foods and dairy.

2015 Dietary Guidelines

Recommendations for Schools

Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan and support healthful eating patterns for all       

Schools play an important role in helping create and support healthful eating patterns. Schools should focus on offering healthier food and beverage choices.

Limit calories from added sugars

Examples of added sugars include raw sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup and fructose. Naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and milk are not considered added sugars. To limit added sugar, offer fresh fruit or fruit canned in juice versus syrup and plain milk or water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. Many whole grain and dairy products contain large amounts of added sugars, so pay attention to the ingredients and amount of sugar, and offer items with little to no added sugar.

Limit calories from saturated and trans fats

Most saturated fats come from mixed dishes containing cheese and/or meat (for example: pizza, burgers, and pasta). Pay attention to the amount of these foods that are offered over the course of the week and consider making vegetarian entrée options available.   

Trans fats are not allowed in school meal programs or in foods sold on the school campus.

Reduce sodium

Many foods contain sodium that is either naturally occurring or added. Read nutrition facts labels to know how much sodium is in the foods being served. Choose canned vegetables and soups that contain low or no salt. Choose fresh vegetables over canned and low-sodium meats. Use a variety of spices to prepare meals instead of salt.

Vegetables – choose a variety from all subgroups including dark green, red/orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other

The school meal pattern requires a minimum amount of all vegetables subgroups to be offered over the course of the week. Having a salad bar is a great way to ensure you are offering students variety.

Fruits – choose whole fruit over 100% fruit juice

The sugar in fruit and 100% juice with no added sugar is naturally occurring; however, juice contains more sugar than a piece of fruit. For example, an orange contains about 9 grams of sugar and a cup of 100% orange juice contains about 21 grams. An additional benefit of eating a piece of fruit instead of drinking juice is you get the benefit of the fiber. 

Grains – choose more whole grains than refined grains

Whole grains are grains that haven’t had the bran or germ removed by milling. As a result, whole grains contain fiber and important vitamins and minerals. To identify whole grains, read the ingredient label and look for the first ingredient to be a whole grain. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, rolled oats and cracked wheat.

Dairy – choose fat free or low-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages.

The current school meal pattern requires that milk be 1% milkfat or fat free. When selecting other dairy products, schools should choose and offer low or fat-free varieties.

Protein – choose a variety including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds and soy products.

Offer a variety of proteins including animal and plant options to give students a variety of choices.   

Additional Recommendations for Schools

  • limit marketing of unhealthy foods
  • make drinking water easily accessible
  • ensure all foods sold on school campuses also meet the Dietary Guidelines
  • eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages
  • encourage physical activity 


Amanda Mercer, Colorado Department of Education Office of School Nutrition



Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020

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