School lunch changes

posted on Thursday, February 21, 2013

“The students are certainly eating more vegetables. I have had positive feedback from parents. They like that there are not so many grain based deserts on the menu.” -Eileen Miller, Christ the King School, Des Moines

You may have heard that school meals have changed…. that more fruits and vegetables are being offered or portions are different. Many children get up to half of their daily calories from school meals. A breakfast or lunch tray give them the energy they need to be active and succeed in school.

Spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 marks the first overhaul of the national school nutrition program in nearly 30 years.

The act includes nutritional guidelines for school breakfasts and lunches, offers resources for schools to utilize local farms and gardens for fresh produce, sets standards for school wellness policies, and authorizes the USDA to provide meals in after school programs.

Federally subsidized lunches served to low-income children (casually known as “free and reduced lunches”) must comply with these nutritional guidelines to be reimbursed by the federal government, a practice common in most schools.

Because of this legislation, things likely look a little different in your child’s school cafeteria. A glimpse of what they are seeing:

  • More fruits and vegetables: at least half cup of fruit or vegetables.
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables; red, orange, dark greens, and legumes are required within a school’s weekly menus.
  • Fewer servings of vegetables that contain starches; like corn, green peas, potatoes, and lima beans.
  • Whole grains: breads, pizza crusts, pasta and rice need to be whole grain…so they may look a little darker.
  • Protein sources are served in just the right amounts for good nutrition.
  • Skim or 1% fat milk: flavored skim milk is an allowable healthy choice.

Students in some lunchrooms can still buy additional foods in the lunch-line or elsewhere on school property, a practice that is likely to change. The USDA has been directed by Congress to regulate those foods – stay tuned.

The new school meal patterns are designed to make the healthy choice the easy choice with foods that fuel brains and bodies. Students are giving the new foods a chance and are discovering how many healthy things they like.

Parents are invited to give school lunch a try – join your child for breakfast or lunch and talk about the healthy options….you might find kids asking for colorful fruits and vegetables at home!

Iowa’s Department of Education is available to answer questions. Contact Carrie Scheidel at 515.281.4758.