Hold the French Fries! School Lunch Just Got Healthier with USDA Ruling

USDAgov/CC BY 1.0

What makes you fat? School lunch. But it just got healthier.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled new rules today for the National School Lunch program that will require schools to offer fruits and vegetables every day, step up the use of whole-grain foods, and reduce sodium and fat levels in food served.

MSNBC adds:

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.

The school lunch program doesn't have the strongest track record for serving healthy food or operating with transparency, but these changes—the program's first overhaul in more than 15 years—will boost nutrition intake for the more than 31 million children who participate in the federally-supported program.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," Michelle 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.

Emphasizing Nutrient-Rich Foods

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says the new regulations will ensure that whole-grain foods, dark green and orange vegetables like broccoli, spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes become weekly staples in school meals.

"The guidelines issued by the United States Department of Agriculture represent a major step in the right direction and a long overdue investment in the future health and productivity of our children," said Dawn Undurraga, EWG staff nutritionist. “Parents can now imagine their children coming home from school with a newfound love for spinach, sweet potatoes and whole-wheat spaghetti."

USDA/Screen capture. A sample lunch menu from the USDA

Not to suggest all lunch options from now on are going to be the picture of health. MSNBC has more:

The new menus won't entirely eliminate favorite food choices among kids, like pizza and french fries, but they will provide alternatives. For example, instead of cheese pizza, students will receive whole wheat cheese pizza. Rather than tater tots, students will get baked sweet potato fries.

But the changes are significant, and have real potential to help the millions of children eating every day what the school offers them.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, "Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids."

EWG's Undurraga added, “School meals can help children develop lifelong healthy eating habits—or they can prime them for a life filled with unnecessary suffering."

Tags: Diet | Education | Fruits & Vegetables