USDA Monday announced a host of new initiatives aimed at rural school children and rural schools to improve food and nutrition offerings and enhance general ag literacy.
The programs advance a variety of USDA initiatives, including the Hunger-Free Kids Act, USDA for all Seasons campaign and the American Recovery Act.
"As our youngsters head back to school, USDA is committed to their future," Vilsack said. "We are taking new steps to expand rural education opportunities, ensure healthy and safe food for young people, and giving parents and teachers the tools and information they need to help our kids grow up ready to lead the world."
USDA has created several new guidelines for school nutrition, and as such the first phase of the updated School Breakfast Program will be implemented this year.
USDA said the updates will provide students with more whole grains, milk with a lower fat content, and meals appropriate for the calorie needs of students of different ages.
Additionally, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, fruit offerings will be increased at breakfast and snacks offered to students will include healthier options while limiting less nutritious food.
Along with the new guidelines, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has launched the MyPlate Kids Place, designed for children ages 8 to 12, which includes games, activity sheets, recipes and tips about food preparation.
Along with the new online hub, USDA has launched the MyPlate on Campus partnership to recruit college-age students to become campus MyPlate ambassadors. These ambassadors will lead their campus community to encourage healthy eating and more physical activity, USDA said.
In addition to food efforts, USDA is launching an in-classroom partnership with the agency's National Ag Statistics Service and the American Statistical Association which includes a Census at School Food Preference Survey lesson plan and activities for students in grades 5 to 8.
This new curriculum teaches statistical and agricultural literacy to children through common core standards in Mathematics, Language Arts, Nutrition, Social Studies, and Family Consumer Sciences, USDA said.
Finally, USDA announced efforts to expand rural opportunities through new facilities and access high-speed internet services.
More than $28 million in USDA Community Facilities loan and grant funds are being allocated to improve the quality of rural schools and libraries, while an effort to connect 99% of America's students to high-speed Internet over the next five years is ongoing.
For example, schools in Mississippi and Arizona will each have grants and loans that allow the schools to expand classroom facilities, while schools in Nevada and West Virginia will each use USDA grants and loans to improve existing library facilities.