The USDA Sets Standards to Make School Meals More Nutritious
New nutrition standards for school meals, just set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, mean your child’s school meals will:
- have more whole grains
- have more fruits and vegetables daily
- have fat free/1% milk varieties daily
- have reduced sodium
- set limits for saturated fat and trans fats
- have age-appropriate portion sizes and be calorically appropriate for age (kindergarteners to fifth-graders’ meals must contain 550 to 650 calories; and meals for for ninth to 12th-graders must have 450 to 600 calories).
These standards, which mark the first such changes to school meals in more than 15 years, go into effect July 1 and will be phased in over a three-year period. Nearly 32 million children who eat at school will benefit. To support the changes, schools will receive another 6 cents, per meal in federal funding.
“With these new guidelines, school wellness teams can make real progress as they revise and refine school policy,” explains Amy Moyer, director of Field Operations, Action for Healthy Kids. “And school districts now have definitions on what foods will be included as part of school meals, which will help them set nutritious menus and – from a practical perspective – update purchasing bids and contracts. But the real bottom line is kids who eat school meals will be the winners.”
School nutrition professionals and health advocates have been awaiting the release of these standards since President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in December 2010. In fact, many school districts across the country have already begun to make changes to meet the guidelines, which are largely based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, as part of efforts to curb childhood obesity in the United States. Seventeen percent in children in the country are obese.