Washington state study finds new school lunch standards have made students’ food healthier; other studies say they are eating it

School lunches are healthier since the federal government created sweeping changes to the program five years ago and almost the same number of students eat a school lunch as before the changes were implemented three years ago, according to a study in Washington state, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools to make their menus healthier with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, less fat and sodium and smaller portion sizes. In 2014, the law added similar nutritional guidelines to all snacks and beverages served during the school day.

Researchers looked at the nutritional value of school lunches and the food choices of about 7,200 students in three middle schools and three high schools in an urban school district in Washington. Data was collected 16 months before and 15 months after the new nutrition standards were implemented for the 2012-13 school year.

The study found that the new rules did not significantly change how many students participated in the meal program. It did not look at whether the students actually ate their healthier lunch, but the researchers cited previous research that found the amount of plate waste has not changed since meal changes were introduced.

The rules have come with some growing pains and complaints from students and dietary staff about food waste, smaller portion sizes, changes in food preparations that make the food unappetizing, fewer students buying lunch and the added cost incurred to pay for the healthier foods.

These complaints prompted the School Nutrition Association and the School Superintendents Association to write a letter to Congress asking for some changes including increased reimbursement to cover the costs of the new meal standards and a request to decrease the whole grain requirements back to half, Carina Storrs reports for CNN.

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