NUTRITION
February 7, 2011

A New Look at School Lunch

Updates to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program lower fat and salt and increase leafy greens. You can comment.

Hold the fries! A proposal to update nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs would raise standards for foods served at school for the first time in fifteen years. And French fries would not be on the menu every day.

The United States Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule earlier this month to improve the meals and other foods served in schools. This proposed rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that was signed into law on December 13, 2010.

At least half of grains served would be whole grains, and the fat content of milk must be 1% or less.

The changes outlined in the proposal will help to improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million children who participate in school meal programs and is a principal piece of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to put an end to the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put it this way, "With many children consuming as many as half their daily calories at school, strengthening nutritional standards is an important step in the Obama administration’s effort to combat childhood obesity and improve the health and wellbeing of all our kids."

Changes to the National School Lunch Program would increase the amount of fruits and vegetables served. Right now schools are supposed to serve from ½ to 1 cup of fruits and vegetables combined per day. The new guidelines raise this to ¾ to 1 cup of vegetables and another ½ to 1 cup of fruit per day. They also specify a weekly requirement for dark green and orange vegetables and legumes and limit starchy vegetables to 1 cup per week (thus limiting the amount of French fries that can be served).

The maximum amount of meat/meat equivalents served would be reduced from 3 ounces per day to 2.4 ounces per day on average. At least half of grains served would be whole grains, and the fat content of milk must be 1% or less.

The proposed changes to the School Breakfast program include increasing the requirement for fruit from ½ cup to 1 cup for per day and requiring that half of the grain foods served be whole grains. The fat content of milk must be 1% or less.

Additionally, schools would have to decrease the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in foods. The amount of sodium would gradually be decreased over 10 years, eventually reducing the sodium by half. For the first time, calorie requirements would be set per grade level, requiring school meals to help meet the nutrition needs of schoolchildren within those calorie requirements.

The current nutrition standards and meal requirements for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program do not meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. Updated standards for school meals are part of the strategy developed by President Obama’s Childhood Obesity Prevention Taskforce to serve more healthy food at schools while working on resolving the problem of childhood obesity.

The new guidelines are based on recommendations released in October 2009 by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine in their report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. A comparison of a sample current school menu and a sample menu meeting the proposed guidelines can be downloaded from the USDA.

You can review the proposal here. Comments from the public are welcome through April 13, 2011. Go here to offer your ideas and reactions to the proposal.

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