Hoping to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity, the Obama administration has announced changes to government-subsidized school meals, a final round of rules that adds more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches and reduces the amount of salt and fat. The quality of school meals has been hotly debated for years be- cause one-third of children in the USA are overweight or obese. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the USDA to set new nutrition standards for all food served in schools. The rules apply to school meals; regulations for other foods such as those served in à la carte lines, vending machines and stores will come later.
The rules are the first changes in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program.
The changes are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat lunch at school every day and almost 11 million who eat breakfast. Overall, kids consume about 30% to 50% of their calories while at school. The new standards for school lunch:
Establish maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals. The sodium limits are phased
in over 10 years.
Require schools to serve a fruit and vegetable every day at lunch and in larger portions
than offered before. Portion sizes vary by age group.
Require schools to offer a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red-orange vegetables, starchy vegetables and legumes each week. The amount varies by age group.
Require that after the two years of implementation, all grains offered to students must be rich in whole grains such as brown rice. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas must list whole grain as the first ingredient.
Require milk to be either low-fat (1%) or fat-free. Flavored milk, such as chocolate,
must now be fat-free.
Require that foods that are served contain no trans fats.
The new standards for lunch take effect the next school year. Changes for breakfast will be phased in. Nutrition experts praised the new standards. “We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing final guidance to help schools across the country serve healthier meals to students,” said Jessica Donze Black, project director for the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The updated nutrition standards for school meals are now in line with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” For more information on the new school lunch and breakfast program guidelines, go to www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/regulations.htm