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School Lunches: Changes To Come
last updated:
Mon, 1/30/2012 2:07 PM

On Jan. 26, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with the aid of First Lady Michelle Obama, announced new requirements for the National School Lunch Program that feeds millions of children in U.S. schools each year.  We asked Le Bonheur Clinical Dietitian Katelyn Wolfe, MS, RD, LDN, to weigh in on the new requirements. Here’s what she had to say:

The new regulations will increase of the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat fluid milk in schools. It will also reduce the amount of options high in sodium, saturated fat and trans fat.  Such changes help to align the National School Lunch Program standards with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by providing nutrient-dense but lower-calorie meals.

These changes aim to help combat the increasing rate of childhood obesity.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 17 percent of children ages 2-19 are obese, a rate that has almost tripled since 1980.  A child that is obese is at an increased risk for chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Because so many children participate in a school lunch program, the mid-day meal becomes a crucial point for intervention in the obesity crisis.

Currently, the healthfulness of school lunches may vary greatly between grades, school districts and states due to broad regulations at the national level and a varying degree of regulations at the state and local levels.  For example, one elementary school may offer whole milk and the option of one fruit or one vegetable, while another elementary school may offer fat-free milk or 2 percent milk and both a fruit and a vegetable.  This inconsistency should disappear when the new regulations go into effect as soon as July.

So what will the meals look like after the change?  Read a sample meu that compares meals before and after the new regulations are in place.  Kids will see more colorful vegetables and fewer potato-based vegetables as well as more whole grains, lean protein sources, more fruits and healthier options for dairy and condiments.  It may be a great contrast to what a child was eating the previous school year. 

Changing the school lunches is only one part of promoting a healthy lifestyle for our children.  What goes on at home also plays a huge role in a child’s health.  For ways that you can become more involved with your child’s health or the health of children in your community, check out our previous post Obesity Awareness.


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Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center is a leading children's hospital in the Mid South, providing pediatric care to children from 95 counties in six states.
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