Updated January 19, 2011Healthy recipes will be on the menu for school lunches under new federal rules proposed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) implementing the first major upgrade to the nutritional value of school meals in over 15 years.
Under the new rules, schools participating in federally-subsidized school lunch programs will be required to reduce by more than half the sodium content of their meals, serve only low-fat or fat-free milk and use more whole grains. In addition, school lunches will be limited to only one cup of starchy vegetables per week, and French fries can no longer be served every day.
Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories, and trans fats in school lunches. A comparison of typical school lunch weekly menus before and after implementation of the new nutritional standards can be seen here. For example:
Before:Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack estimates the new meal standards will affect more than 32 million school kids who consume up to half of their daily calories at school.
Hot dog on bun (3 oz) with ketchup (4 T)
Canned Pears (1/4 cup)
Raw Celery and Carrots (1/8 cup each) with ranch dressing (1.75 T)
Low-fat (1%) Chocolate Milk (8 oz)
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Meat Sauce (1/2 cup) and Whole Wheat Roll
Green Beans, cooked (1/2 cup)
Broccoli (1/2 cup)
Cauliflower (1/2 cup)
Kiwi Halves, raw (1/2 cup)
Low-fat (1%) Milk (8 oz)
Low Fat Ranch Dip (1 oz)
Soft Margarine (5 g)
The Health Benefits
In announcing the new rules, Vilsack cited government statistics showing that almost 32 percent of children 6 to 19 years of age are overweight or obese, placing them at risk of chronic diseases such ashigh blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes.
"The United States is facing an obesity epidemic and the crisis of poor diets threatens the future of our children - and our nation," said Secy. Vilsack in a press release. "We understand that these improved meal standards may present challenges for some school districts, but the new law provides important new resources, technical assistance and flexibility to help schools raise the bar for our kids."
Paying for Nutrition
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama on Dec. 31, 2010 included a 6 cent per meal increase in the federal reimbursement to schools intended to help them pay for the nutritionally upgraded meals.
Also See: No More 'Mystery Meat':The new school lunch nutritional standards come just months after the USDA implemented new regulations intended to ensure the safety of ground beef supplied by the government for school lunches and other public nutrition programs.