Twitter Facebook RSS Feed Print
Your Child

USDA New Rules: Healthier School Lunches

1.45 to read

Government funded school lunches will offer more fruit and vegetables and less fat on their lunch plates starting next September.

New guidelines by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)   were announced Wednesday when First Lady Michelle Obama, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, visited with elementary students.

"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," said Vilsack. "When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal."

It’s been more than 15 years since the school lunch program has had an overhaul. The changes will affect over 32 million kids who eat at school. The new regulations will be phased in over the next three years, starting in the fall.

Under the new regulations, schools will be required to offer fruits and vegetables every day, increase the amount of whole-grain foods and reduce the sodium and fats in the foods served. Schools will also be required to offer only fat-free or low-fat milk. In addition, the menus will pay attention to portion sizes to make sure children receive calories appropriate to their age, according to Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

The new requirements are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law last year by President Barack Obama and championed by the First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move! campaign.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," Mrs. Obama said. "And when we're putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria."

The new guidelines apply to lunches that are subsidized by the federal government. The government will help school districts pay for some of the increased costs. Schools will receive an additional 6 cents per meal in federal funding. The overall cost to implement the changes is expected to be about $3.2 billion. To help with the costs, Concannon said schools will have more flexibility in how the program is administered. Students, for example, will be allowed to pick and choose more items as they move through the line, rather than getting a plate served to them.

Some of the changes will take place as soon as this September; others will be phased in over time. The subsidized meals are served as free and low-cost meals to low-income children. The 2010 law will also extend to nutrition standards of other foods, sold in schools, that aren't subsidized by the federal government. Included will be "a la carte" foods on the lunch line and snacks in vending machines. Those standards will be written separately and have not yet been proposed by the department.

Wendy Weyer, director of nutrition services for Seattle Public Schools, said her district is already complying with many of the new USDA standards, and taking other steps, such as having partnerships with local farmers and planting school gardens. "Seattle has been very progressive with changing the way we offer meals, offering fruits and vegetables every day, as well as whole grain-rich foods," she said.

Weyer said the biggest challenge is reducing sodium content, "while keeping the meals palatable for our students."

Statistics show that about 17 percent of U.S. children and teenagers are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new standards are aimed at providing a higher nutritional content as well as a variety of healthier choices. 

“We strongly support the regulations,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the Maryland-based School Nutrition Association. “The new nutrition standards for school meals are great news for kids.” Pratt-Heavner said parents will play an important role in supporting the new standards.  ”We all have to work to get the kids to make these healthier choices,” she said. “Students are more apt to pick up a fruit or vegetable in the lunch line if they have been introduced to those foods at home.” 

Vilsack said food companies are reformulating many of the foods they sell to schools in anticipation of the changes. "The food industry is already responding," he said. "This is a movement that has started, it's gaining momentum."

The new standards did not come easily. Congress last year blocked the Agriculture Department from making some of the desired changes, including limiting french-fries and pizzas. Conservatives in Congress called the guidelines an overreach and said the government shouldn't tell children what to eat. School districts also objected to some of the requirements, saying they go too far and would cost too much.

Some schools are already making voluntary changes in their menus, but others still serve children meals high in fat, calories and sodium.  The guidelines are designed to combat childhood obesity and are based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sources: http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/01/25/10234671-students-to-see-healthier-school-lunches-under-new-usda-rules,  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article

Your Child

Healthier Choices for Students in School Lunch Lines

1:30

School lunches have changed over the years and in many school cafeterias, food options are healthier than ever before, according to a new study.

Elementary school cafeterias are offering more vegetables, fresh fruit, salad bars, whole grains and more healthy pizzas, while the availability of high-fat milks, fried potatoes and regular pizza has decreased, researchers report.

"School food service programs have worked hard to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, and largely have been very successful," said lead researcher Lindsey Turner, director of the Initiative for Healthy Schools at Boise State University, in Idaho.

Although in some schools food choices are improving, that’s not the case everywhere. Turner noted that more work needs to be done to make sure every student has the same healthy choices in the lunch line.

In the study of more than 4,600 elementary schools that are part of the U.S. National School Lunch Program, researchers found that school lunches improved significantly between 2006-2007 and 2013-2014.

Despite improvements in food choices, disparities were still found. For example, schools in the West were more likely to offer salad bars than schools in the Northeast, Midwest or South, the researchers found.

Schools with a majority of black or Hispanic children were less likely to offer fresh fruit than schools with a preponderance of white students.

Also, schools in poor areas were less likely to offer salads regularly.

Over the course of the study, Midwestern schools slightly reduced offering pre-made salads in favor of salad bars, but Southern schools were more likely to offer pre-made salads and less likely to have salad bars, the researchers found.

On the other side of offering healthier foods is choosing to eat those foods. Just because there are better food options available, doesn’t mean that kids will eat them. One expert noted that it takes time and effort for kids to change their eating habits. It not only has to look good, it has to taste good.

"It is not only important to improve the quality of school lunches but to make these foods attractive, tasty, easily seen and accessible," said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center, in New York City.

Studies have found that putting fresh fruit in a nice bowl, in a conveniently located, well-lit area in the school cafeteria increased sales of fruit by 102 percent, she noted.

"A brightly lit, hot-and-cold salad bar filled with colorful fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, mushroom and spinach pizza, and veggie tacos center-stage in the lunchroom would be very attractive to students and staff alike," Heller said.

This approach works well at home, too, she added.

"Kids are more likely to grab healthy foods like cut-up melon, carrots, peppers, edamame and hummus when they are upfront and easy to grab in the fridge," Heller said.

The study was published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Story source: Steven Reinberg, http://consumer.healthday.com/vitamins-and-nutrition-information-27/food-and-nutrition-news-316/america-s-school-lunches-getting-healthier-study-709097.html

Please fill in your e-mail address to be included in our newsletter.
You may opt out at any time.

 

DR SUE'S DAILY DOSE

When your child loses a tooth.

Please fill in your e-mail address to be included in our newsletter.
You may opt out at any time.

 

Please fill in your e-mail address to be included in our newsletter.
You may opt out at any time.