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New School Food Guidelines Take Effect This Fall
posted by: Alix | August 21, 2012, 07:00 PM   

With the movement toward healthy eating gaining steam among national advocates like First Lady Michelle Obama, the prospect of serving healthier meals to students is making headway in districts across the country. This fall, new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches are taking effect in schools across the country.

The new guidelines will limit calories, salt intake, and fat in breakfast and lunch meals for public school students. Officials are also calling for more whole grains, local produce, and healthier options for school lunches.

The mandates also require that schools offer dark green, orange or red vegetables at least once a week, and students must choose at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal. Trans-fats are banned from schools, and any flavored milk offered must be fat-free.

School lunch workers gathered at the School Nutrition Association conference in Denver, Colorado this summer to share tricks about how to get students to make healthy choices in the lunch line. Their guidelines are as follows:

  • Grains: Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain.
  • Meats/Meat Alternatives: Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases. 8-12 ounces per week, depending on the age of the student.
  • Milk: Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options (1 cup per day) should be allowable.
  • Fruits: Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice.
  • Vegetables: Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others.
  • Sodium: By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed 740 milligrams.
  • Fats: No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No trans-fat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.

While the cost and impact of the overall requirements remain to be seen, the farming community maintains that pushing local options could teach both healthy eating and lessons about agriculture. "We know that children are very disconnected from agriculture...literally thinking food comes from a grocery store," said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

Educators are also recognizing value in having better school food. According to Barb Mechura, head of nutrition services at a school system in Minnesota, "Food is one of the most important influences on your everyday brain cells." Healthy eating habits, she argued, are as important as everything else schools are trying to teach. "We have to change," she concluded.

What do you think about the new requirements?
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