Students to see healthier school lunches under new USDA rules
More fruit, fewer fries. Lots of legumes. Romaine amid the salad greens. And the bread on that peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Whole grain instead of white.
School lunches in Morris County and elsewhere will start to look a bit different thanks to new standards being developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The guidelines mark the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in 15 years.
The new meal standards are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat lunch at school every day. The new requirements will:
* Establish calorie minimums and maximums for the first time. For lunch: 550 to 650 calories for elementary-schoolers; 600 to 700 for middle-schoolers; 750 to 850 for high-schoolers.
* Require all milk to be low-fat or nonfat, and require flavored milks to be nonfat.
* Ban most trans fats.
* Gradually reduce sodium. A high school lunch now has about 1,600 milligrams of sodium — more than twice the recommended limit, according to the National Institute of Medicine. Through incremental changes, that amount will be lowered over the next decade to 740 milligrams or less.
* Require that half of grains served must be 100% whole grains.
* Require more servings of fruits and vegetables.
* Expose children to a wider variety of vegetables. Over the course of a week, there must be at least one serving each of green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash) and beans.
School lunches are facing increased scrutiny these days. The nutritional overhaul was prompted in part by first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to fight childhood obesity and the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which won congressional approval in December. “As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”
“Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal.”
Pam Ackley, Morris County director of food services, said her staff has not liked that the foods they served were mostly processed foods and have tried numerous times to work things into the menus that were made on site - lasagna, goulash, meatloaf, Salisbury steaks, sloppy Joes, beef and noodles, cheesy potatoes, BBQ beef. The new guidelines were supposed to have limited the potatoes, corn and peas this year and we started out trying to change to this also. Since then the USDA has changed their mind and are allowing the mashed potatoes etc. but when we were trying to get students to eat the sweet potatoes we tried different ways of preparing them - candied sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes with apples, mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries. We could not get students to eat any of them. This is one of the "colors" of vegetables that will have to have a certain serving size every week next year so we could use it as an option if they would eat it. We ended up having to go back to processed foods again because students were not eating the new foods. Students will actually go through the line in elementary school and if there is something new, will say “I don't like that” and won't even try it. This is not just 1 or 2 kids, it is most of the kids. It would help so much if parents would encourage their kids to try new things and at least taste it and try things. We are trying to make food that students will like and be better for them but there is only so much that we can do. In the coming years it is going to have to change and the processed foods will not be able to be used.