Students got their first taste of the new federal guidelines for school lunches when they returned to school this fall. Since then it seems kids just haven’t been able to get enough of the new lunches, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
In January, the United States Department of Agriculture released the first revisions of the program in 15 years in large part as a response to the growing obesity epidemic.
“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,” said First Lady Michelle Obama during a statement introducing the new standards along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The new regulations increase servings of grain, fruits and vegetables, while dialing back on sodium, fat and carbs. In addition, per meal calorie limits have been implemented, which is a first in the program’s history.
At first glance students would have noticed little difference. Sure, the removal of french fries registered, but in many respects the big-ticket menu items read similar to that of preceding years––especially if one assumes an entree like a 2012 burger is the same as a burger served in 2011, which it is not. Served on a bun of whole grain, devoid of “pink sludge” and sized down in radius, the 2012 burger is its own entree.
As a side dish, federal guidelines require each lunch include a half a cup of fruits and vegetables per day for elementary school students, three quarters of a cup for students in grades six through eight, and a full cup for high-school students.
Whatever the combo, lunch-goers will be looking at a plate of 650 calories for younger students, and 850 for those in high school. The caps must be adhered to without exception or the school faces losing its meal federal reimbursement. This means students cannot return for a second burger nor fill up on the likes of bread and rice. Only fruits and vegetables are offered without limit.
Federal reimbursement rates rose this year by 6 cents per lunch to help schools cover the expected $3.2 billion cost of implementing new lunch and breakfast standards over the next five years. New requirements for breakfast will begin to phase in next year.