The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs may finally receive a much needed overhaul if the recommendations released today by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) are implemented by the USDA.
The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs receive federal funding to provide low-cost or free lunches to public school students. In 2008, more than 30.5 million children received a hot lunch through this program. To be eligible for federal reimbursement, school meals must meet government derived nutritional standards for the types of foods that must be on the student’s tray. However, since the programs inception, the school lunch program has been a dumping ground for excess commodities like cheese and meat, but advances in the understanding of nutrient needs for children has lead to today’s publication of School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, which makes the health of students the basis for establishing new, health promoting standards for school meal planning. The changes include:
Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories
Reducing saturated fat and sodium
If the IOM’s recommendations are implemented, school meals will become more appealing and more closely meet students’ dietary needs. The standards have long required a minimum number of calories per meal (based on age), but the new rules set an upper limit for calories (650 per lunch for kids in grades K-5, 700 for kids in grades 6-8 and 850 for those in grades 9-12) which reflect the need to curve the rising rates of obesity. Students will be served more fruit, only half of it in juice form; more leafy and orange vegetables and fewer potatoes; only 2 ounces of meat at lunch and 1 ounce in school-provided breakfast; more whole grains, and 1 percent or skim milk instead of whole or 2 percent. And over time, a reduction in sodium will occur. Best of all, the new standards are designed to be flexible enough to accommodate any changes that may be presented in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Finally, the menus will be based on the needs of the children and will promote the healthy eating habits and good food choices that should carry them into adulthood.