Have Returning Students Seen a Real Change in School Lunches?


Photo: USDA

School nutrition changes, which are part of the newly enacted Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, bolster school nutrition programs by providing more meals to food insecure kids and by making those meals healthier and more nutrient dense. But has the law worked? What changes have kids really seen in their school lunches?
The Health Hunger-Free Kids Act has addressed both child hunger and child obesity. In terms of child hunger, it's taken a number of important steps to make it easier for at risk kids to be satiated with healthier fare during the school day. It's expanded the available meals for over 400,000 children in foster care and started to promote school breakfast programs so that kids can start the day right.

The Act, which has been lauded by First Lady Michelle Obama, also tackles childhood obesity by improving school lunch nutrition and ensuring that foods sold in vending machines on school premises promote a heathy diet. Funding per child has been increased by 4 cents. But specifically, what does the new menu really offer?

Changing the Menu

The bottom line is that, according to the USDA, school meal menus are changing. The USDA, which is tasked with implementing certain aspects of the new law, is making "Back to School Improvements" by:

  • Reducing added sugars in canned fruits and juices by 35-55 percent
  • Providing low sodium canned corn and tomatoes
  • Reducing sodium in dairy, including processed dairy, by 50 percent
  • Providing that whole grain bread be a minimum of 51 percent whole grains
  • Replacing fried choices with roasted and glazed protein choices

In general, these changes have been welcomed in a time when childhood obesity threatens the next generation. Today, one in three kids are considered overweight or obese, a rate which has tripled in the past three decades, according to Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign.

Schools should be sanctuaries that promote good, wholesome nutrition, especially considering the impact good nutrition has on a child's ability to stay focused and learn. I would love to see more of a focus on local foods and growing food right on campus with an obvious example being the Edible Schoolyard. I would also add that the next generation is worth more than a 4 cents per child increase, but this is certainly a good start.

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Tags: Education