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Hold the Fries! USDA Calls to Raise Nutrition Standards in School Meals

Hold the Fries! USDA Calls to Raise Nutrition Standards in School Meals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is calling to raise the nutrition standards for school meals for the first time in 15 years, according to USA Today.

The government’s proposed rule, to be released on Thursday, includes offering students more fruits and vegetables, and limiting French fries, sodium and calories. 

“This is ‘the first major improvement’ in the standards that ‘we’ve seen in a generation, and it reflects the seriousness of the issue of obesity,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told USA Today.

Implementing new school meal standards is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that President Obama signed into law on December 13th. Despite a somewhat rocky road leading up to passage of the $4.5 billion bill, the new law provides a sweeping overhaul of child nutrition standards.

The bill was also a top priority for First Lady Michelle Obama and a cornerstone of her Let’s Move initiative aimed at combating childhood obesity in this country.

As USA Today reports, the requirements for school meals outlined in the proposed rule include:

  • Decrease the amount of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and green peas, to one cup a week.
  • Reduce sodium in meals over the next 10 years. A high school lunch now has about 1,600 milligrams of sodium. Through incremental changes, that amount should be lowered over the next decade to 740 milligrams or less of sodium for grades through 9 through 12; 710 milligrams or less for grades 6 through 8; 640 milligrams or less for kindergarten through fifth grades.
  • Establish calorie maximums and minimums for the first time. For lunch: 550 to 650 calories for kindergarten through fifth grade; 600 to 700 for grades 6 through 8; 750 to 850 for grades 9 through 12.
  • Serve only unflavored 1% milk or fat-free flavored or unflavored milk. Currently, schools can serve milk of any fat content.
  • Increase the fruits and vegetables kids are offered. The new rule requires that a serving of fruit be offered daily at breakfast and lunch and that two servings of vegetables be offered daily at lunch. Over the course of a week, there must be a serving of each of the following: green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash), beans, starchy and other vegetables. This is to make sure that children are exposed to a variety of vegetables.
  • Increase whole grains substantially. Currently, there is no requirement regarding whole grains, but the proposed rules require that half of grains served must be whole grains.
  • Minimize trans fat by using products where the nutrition label says zero grams of trans fat per serving.

“Currently, schools receive $2.72 from the federal government for every child who is on the free lunch program. Schools that meet the new standards will get another 6 cents per meal,” says USA Today. They also report that the USDA is asking for input on the proposed rule during a public comment period that ends April 13th. “When the regulation is final, schools will be required to meet the new standards to get government reimbursement on school meals.”

Every day across the country, nearly 32 million children eat lunch and nearly 11 million children eat breakfast at school. The University of Michigan reported last spring that middle schoolers who regularly eat school lunches have higher LDL (bad) cholesterol and consume twice as many fatty meats and sugary drinks than children who bring lunch from home.

About 25 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese or overweight, putting them at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health problems.  At today’s rate, one child in every four, and one in three will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime, according to Slow Food USA. For African-American and Hispanic children, that number rises to one in two. 

And a study published in 2005 found that the current generation of kids could very well be the first in 200 years to lead shorter lives than their parents – all because of obesity.

Economic disparities abound within school districts, and there are schools that have already adopted healthier menus. Access to good nutrition should not be a privilege based on wealth. Given that children consume 30 to 50 percent of their calories in school, it’s high time that school meal programs guarantee all children healthy, nutritious food. Our nation’s future depends on it.

Related Reading:

House Stalls Child Nutrition Bill (VIDEO) UPDATE

Alice Waters Speaks Out About School Food (VIDEO)

A Father’s Diet Can Predict Kid’s Risk of Disease


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Photo courtesy of Beau Wade, via Wikimedia Commons

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3:04PM PST on Feb 10, 2013


10:37AM PDT on Aug 18, 2011


5:57AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

Excuse me, but this organization has just okayed Monsanto alfalfa and sugar beets, and so this little sop thrown to the masses, while they destroy the very structure of our food, does not encourage me at all.

5:35AM PST on Feb 9, 2011

It's common sense that more healthy food should be introduced in schools, but at the same time the occasional "junk" type food should be offered as I think if it's not, children will just buy junk food when they are out of school.

6:29AM PST on Feb 4, 2011

It is very good to avoid the frize foods and to have fruit and vegetable ,and avoid the artificial foods for kids.

11:37AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

About time!!

7:11AM PST on Feb 1, 2011

it's timely, at least they realized the impact of these so called killer foods, parents need to explain to their children while they are still young, for them not to be addicted on to it. Health awareness should always be a priority in every home and school.

11:31PM PST on Jan 31, 2011

It's great. BTW why trans fat was used in the food industry in the first place..that was long time ago. Who was the president at that time? Should this link to president or just white house regulators? or the gov system?

12:42AM PST on Jan 25, 2011

ok thx

11:02AM PST on Jan 24, 2011

The sad part is it will cost us 4.5 billion to analyze and implement the equivillant of a mother or father reminding theiur child to eat all their fruits and vegetables. OMG all schools need is a online conference with a nutritional specialist giving them instructions on what to cut out of the lunch program, such as no more purchasing these pre-packaged meals and go back to the times when school kitchens actually cooked the foods children eat instead of feeding them this pre-packaged food that is trucked in/ it is like feeding them AM/PM foods all day. Parents must rule their own kingdom, and if they desire to be stupid, never read labels, fail to understand how to stay healthy and feed their children the same fast food at home then they are actually abusing their children. Plus locally sourcing food could save tons of dough burning truck fuel.

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