New School Lunch Rules

By Mary Nicholson

Aah, back to school time.  I always got a kick out of the Staples commercial where the family is shopping for back to school supplies, and the parents are smiling and frolicking while “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays.  And of course, the kids are sulking and looking unhappy.  I’m not sure that’s so typical these days, but there’s still a change in dynamics when it’s time to go back to school.

Along with a new teacher or new school, there are new thing happening in the cafeteria!  For the first time in more than 15 years, the USDA announced new standards for school meals.  Many schools started implementing some of these changes last year, but they are required to be in effect for 2012-13.  These requirements are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  You may see more fruit and vegetable offerings, along with more whole grain foods.  Juices must now be 100% juice, and no more than half of the weekly offerings of fruits and vegetables can be in the form of juice.  Flavored milk now has to be fat-free, and regular white milk can be either fat-free or 1%.

This is a very simplistic overview of some of the new rules for school lunch.  I attended the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in July, and I came away a little stunned by all of the hoops school nutrition folks have to jump through to get menus that not only meet the requirement but are also acceptable to their customers!  There are now minimum and maximum calorie limits in place, and there will be more variety in the vegetables that must be served.  The requirements also vary depending on grade level, and are broken down into three categories:  grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

Again, these are only a few of the changes that will be going on in school cafeterias across the country.  And there will be more to come in the near future.  Sodium will be a nutrient of concern.  So rest assured that your kids will be fed healthy meals at school.  As to whether they eat them or not, that’s a whole different ballgame!

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