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USDA To Require Healthier Meals In Schools With Updated Nutrition Standards

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
January 25, 2012

Less salt and fat. More whole grains, fruit, veggies and low-fat dairy. This is what kids can expect in the school lunchroom soon, according to new nutrition standards for school meals announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and first lady Michelle Obama.

“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,” Obama said in a statement. “We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”

And remember all the political shenanigans over pizza as a veggie? Yes, pizza can technically still count as one serving of veggies. But that slice of pizza won’t be served alone. The new standards call for two servings of vegetables per meal. So the pizza will come with a side of carrots or green beans.

Chocolate milk made the cut, too, although from here on out it will be skim, according to a sample menu created to show what the new standards will look like once implemented.

“The new school standards are a terrific step forward,” Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told The Salt. “And they would have been even better if Congress had not meddled.”

One example: French fries. Originally, the USDA proposed a standard that would have limited servings of the starchy potato. But Wootan explains that the potato lobby found friends in Congress to help scrap that provision. The result: French fries will likely remain a staple of the school cafeteria. But they’re likely to be a little less salty.

Another change in store: setting limits on total calories for a meal. While there are still many children at risk of food insecurity or hunger, there’s also the competing challenge of obesity. In trying to balance these concerns, the USDA decided to set a calorie range.

For instance, the USDA say elementary school kids should receive lunches between 550 and 650 calories, which is about one-third of daily recommended calories.

The price tag on the changes? $3.2 billion over the next five years, the agency says. But schools will get some help with those costs from the government — included in the package announced today is an increase of 6 cents per meal in reimbursement funds for schools. This is the first increase in reimbursement funds in 30 years.

Nearly 32 million kids participate in school meal programs every school day. In addition to revamping nutrition standards, USDA also recently began encouraging schools to partner with local farms to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into the lunchroom. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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