Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New School Lunch Standards Coming Soon!

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been developing new standards for school meals. They are designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, decrease sodium content, cut saturated fat, increase whole grains consumption, combat childhood obesity, and more. In the proposed rules, starchy vegetables like potatoes cannot only be served in limited quantities. The standards are largely based on Institute of Medicine guidelines.

The nutrition standards for school meals would change dramatically under the new Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Among the proposed changes:
  • Milk: One-cup servings of unflavored milk must be 1 percent milk-fat or fat-free, and one-cup servings of flavored milk must be fat-free.
  • Bread products served must be made with 50 percent whole grains. Two years after the USDA implements the nutrition regulations, all breads served must be made entirely of whole grain.
  • Students must be offered one full cup of fruit at breakfast. Only half a cup could be juice, and that would have to be 100 percent fruit juice. Fruit could be replaced with vegetables.
  • A meat or meat alternative, such as eggs, yogurt, or cheese, would have to be served every day. Tofu is not an approved meat alternative.
  • The calorie range is 350 to 500 for elementary students, 400 to 550 for middle schoolers, and 450 to 600 for high schoolers.
  • No starchy vegetables—potatoes, corn, peas, or lima beans—are allowed.
  • Over the course of 10 years, schools must reduce sodium to 430 milligrams or less per breakfast for elementary students, 470 milligrams or less for middle schoolers, and 500 milligrams or less for high schoolers.
  • Elementary and middle students must be offered a one-half cup serving of fruit every day. High school students must be offered a cup every day.
  • The calorie range is 550 to 650 in elementary school, 600 to 700 in the middle grades, and 750 to 850 in high school.
  • Elementary and middle school students must be offered at least one ¾-cup serving of vegetables every day; one cup for high school students.
  • Starchy vegetables must be limited to a one-cup serving a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of dark-green vegetables must be offered at least once a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of orange vegetables must be offered at least once a week.
  • A one-half-cup serving of legumes—black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, green peas, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, soy beans, split peas, and white beans—must be served once a week.
  • Over 10 years, schools must reduce sodium to 430 milligrams or less per lunch in elementary school, 470 milligrams or less in middle school, and 500 milligrams or less in high school.
The proposed rules were put out in January and you have until April 13th to send in your comments. It is spectacularly easy to send in your comments. Just click on this link, type in your name and your comments, and press send.

According to this article in Education Week, school districts are worried about the cost (what's new!) and they are also worried about whether kids will actually eat whole grains or fruits and vegetables. Predictably, nutrition groups are all for it.

Why does it matter? A lot of schools serve many, many subsidized meals to kids who get free and reduced price meals, and in addition (alert: fun factoid coming!) some students may get half their calories at school.

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