USDA issues new school lunch rules; not as broad as first written, but will make meals healthier

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new, finalized requirements that will make school lunch a healthier meal for students.

The guidelines will mean:
• Students will be given both fruit and vegetables every school day.
• More foods will be made with whole grains.
• Students will be offered only fat-free or low-fat milk.
• Calories will be limited by portion size, based on the age of children being served.
• There will be less saturated fat and trans-fats in the food served.
• The amount of sodium will decrease gradually over the next 10 years.
Though the changes represent the first school-lunch overhaul in 15 years, they are not as comprehensive as the Obama administration initially wanted them to be. A bill passed late last year “would require the department to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now,” reports Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press. “The initial draft of the department’s guidelines, released a year ago, would have prevented that.” Congress also kept USDA from limiting potatoes to two servings a week. Potato farmers and frozen-pizza companies lobbied hard against those proposals, some conservatives said the government shouldn’t be telling children what to eat, and some school districts said the changes were too broad and too expensive.
Some of the changes will be incorporated by September, and others will be phased in. The changes affect lunches that are subsidized by the federal government in the National School Lunch Program, which serves 32 million children. Participation rates are very high in Kentucky. The Covington and Owsley County school districts have the highest percentage of students — 88 percent — eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Magoffin County has the second highest with 86 percent followed by Newport (85 percent); Bell County (83 percent); and West Point Independent in Hardin County (81 percent). (Read more)
The changes are aimed in part at curbing childhood obesity. That has also been the target of measure to limit junk food in schools, which have been called into question. A recent study of almost 20,000 students found no link between junk food at school and weight gain in children. “The researchers examined the children’s weight and found that in the eighth grade, 35.5 percent of kids in schools with junk food were overweight while 34.8 percent of those in schools without it were overweight — a statistically insignificant increase,” reports Benjamin Radford of Discovery News. (Read more)
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