Healthy School Lunch

First lady Michelle Obama and the USDA’s Tom Vilsack announced a list of new nutrition standards for public school meals earlier this week with major health upgrades for the nation’s children, earning applause from consumer health organizations and advocacy groups.

Among the notable upgrades to the meal regulations, the required fruit and vegetable intake is up from the previous total of ½-¾ cup combined fruit and vegetable servings per day to a minimum of ¾ to 1 cup of vegetables and ½ to 1 cup of fruit servings per day. Additionally, a weekly requirement of a wider range of acceptable vegetables have been defined for the first time to include dark leafy greens, beans and peas, and fruits and vegetables that are red or orange. Meat servings have been downsized from 1.5 – 2 ounces per day to 1 ounce maximum for grades K-8 and 2 ounces for grades 9-12. Flavored milk and anything richer than 1 percent is no longer permitted; nor are any foods containing trans fats. As well, stricter restrictions aimed at reducing the sodium content by more than half over the next decade and reducing calories by as much as 25 percent have been implemented in tiers.

The new regulations also take a bold approach to adding whole grains to school meals. Previous requirements were nonexistent; the only official regulation was that they were “encouraged” as part of the school meals, but the new regulations require that half of all the grain servings must include whole grains as of July 2012, and 100 percent of the grains served in schools must be whole grain by July 2014.

The news comes just months after Congress proposed allowing pizza and French fries to count as vegetable servings, inciting angry backlash from parents and advocacy groups.

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Image: USDAgov