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It’s that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school, but they aren’t heading back to the same school lunch.  In 2010, moms, advocates and Congress worked together to pass the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and as a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has updated the nutrition standards for school lunches.

With one out of every three children overweight or obese, 31 million children eating school lunch, and 15 years since the last update, it was time.  Ensuring that school meals are healthy is important for children's health and, healthy children learn better.

Starting this fall, school lunches will be more wholesome and nutritious, with double the fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, only fat-free and low-fat milk, and limits on unhealthy fats and salt. There are new age-based calorie ranges too, ensuring that children are served appropriate portions for their age.

The new school lunch standards are a great step forward, but schools need your help to fully implement them. Here are some ways you can support healthier school lunches:

  • Help get the word out to other parents about healthier school lunches. Write a letter to the editor, post a message on Facebook, Tweet about them, or send this blog post to family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Review the school menu or ask your child what is being served. Ask what they had for lunch, what they liked, how it could be better.  Share constructive feedback with your school food service.
    • Or, see the improvements to school lunches firsthand, have lunch with your child.
  • Offer to organize a taste test at your child’s school of new recipes and foods.
  • Feed your child more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at home so they are familiar with them and open to eating them at school.
  • Talk to your school food service director about ways you can support their efforts.
  • Join your school wellness/health committee (or start one).
  • For more information and other ideas, visit www.schoolfoods.org/back2school.

The new school lunch standards have the potential to transform the school nutrition environment and improve children's health, but we need your help to get them fully implemented in all schools across the country.

Margo G. Wootan, D.Sc.

Margo Wootan is the Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI is a nonprofit organization that has worked to improve school foods, pass a national law to provide calorie information at restaurants, limit junk food marketing to children, and otherwise make it easier for people to eat well and feed their children healthfully.  It is supported by approximately 850,000 members and subscribers to its Nutrition Action Health letter.

This post is part of the MomsRising "Making the School Day Healthier" Blog Carnival headlined by Top Chef Lorena Garcia."

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