It’s back to school time once again. Many schools have started classes or will start soon. This year kids will be returning to healthier meals at school. And this is good news for students, teachers, and parents.
For the first time in over 15 years, kids will be offered healthier meals in schools thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled the new school meals standards earlier this year and this fall is the first school year that the new standards will be implemented.
Thirty one million children participate in the National School Lunch Program. With one of five children at risk of hunger and one out of every three children in America overweight or obese, it is important to make school meals healthier.
Improvements include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, offering only fat-free and low-fat milk, limits on unhealthy fats, like saturated and trans fats, and less salt in meals. In addition, there are new age-based calorie ranges, too, ensuring that children are served the proper portion for their age and not fed too little or too much.
The new standards will ensure children receive nutritious and appealing meals this school year. The law also offers new federal funds available for improvements to school lunches, but schools will need to meet the new standards in order to qualify for the increased funding. School lunch officials will need help from parents and teachers to succeed. Parents can help by reinforcing healthy eating at home, encouraging children to try new menu options at school, and encouraging participation in the school lunch program. Teachers can try the new meal options with the students and speak supportively about the new meals with their students.
New school meals standards are a major step in the right direction when it comes to making school foods and meals healthier for our children. The next step is that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will soon propose updated national nutrition standards for school foods sold through vending machines, school stores, a la carte lines, and other venues outside of the school meal programs. These foods standards have not kept up with nutritional science and have not been updated since 1979. The current standards keep items like calorie free soda water out of school lunch lines, but allow candy items that are fortified with vitamins to be sold. Most parents know that a candy bar is a candy bar even if you put vitamins in it.
New school meals standards are a big win for kids and it is important that the USDA release healthy science-based standards for "competitive" foods as soon as possible so that all aspects of the lunch room and school food environment can be healthier for our kids.