Kids heading back to school can expect much of the same: math, spelling, science, and history lessons. But they can also expect something rather new to the nation’s schools: healthier school lunch options.
According to a recently released federal report, the nutrition profile of school lunch options has improved since the standards were implemented in 2012.
“Nearly 80 percent of schools offered two or more vegetables per meal in 2014, the data showed, up from 62 percent in 2000,” reports the New York Times. “Two or more fruits were offered in about 78 percent of schools, up from 68 percent in 2000. About a third of schools now have salad bars.”
Most students consume nearly half of their daily calories while at school. And with the nation battling a widespread obesity crisis that children are particularly vulnerable to, the dietary changes are being leveraged against the epidemic. Turns out, it might actually be working. “Obesity has decreased among the youngest children,” reports the Times, “as well as among children of low-income families participating in federal food programs.” That’s good news for children, as obesity rates have skyrocketed, more than triple what they were in the 1970s.
With obesity comes an increased risk for other health conditions, namely type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Now, through the updated school lunch program, more than half of the nation’s schools are preparing lunches with fresh, often locally sourced, ingredients. And while canned foods are still being served in a number of schools, the Times reports that 52 percent of schools are using low-sodium options. Even hot dogs have less fat, and there are more beans, lentils, and whole grains on the menus too.
“Literally, the way the school lunch line looks is different,” Deb Bentzel, senior associate at the Food Trust in Philadelphia, a nonprofit that works to increase access to nutritious food in schools and communities, told the Times. “It’s brighter, it’s healthier-looking, it’s fresher.”
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School lunch image via Shutterstock