School Lunch Reform Causes Big Menu Changes

With 25 million children and teens—nearly one third of American kids — overweight or obese, the USDA announced new nutrition standards for school lunches earlier this year, making dietary changes for the first time in more than 15 years.

The improvements require the lunches to: Decrease the amount of starchy vegetables to one cup per week; Reduce sodium from current 1600 milligrams to 740 within the next ten years for high school students, 710 milligrams for grades 6-8 and 640 milligrams or less for K-5; Increase fruit and vegetable servings, at least 2 servings at lunch; Increase whole grains, which currently are not required at all; Minimize trans fats by only using products whose labeling claim 0 grams of trans fats.

Many of the standard school lunch items include frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries and other processed foods made by companies who feared the new changes to the lunch menu would lead to a loss of business. But it might not be the case, as several companies, such as Schwan Foods, are working on revamping their frozen offerings, making them healthier so as to accommodate the new lunch standards. Pizza represents the second largest calorie source for kids, and Schwan’s has altered their pizza offerings to feature just 370 calories per serving, 500 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of fat and 51 percent whole grain, down from more than 700 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of fat and 470 calories.

Tyson Foods, the leading chicken nugget processor has pledged to add whole grains to their breading and has started to look at sodium reduction. They’ve added new chicken items that meet the new standards including an Asian inspired “Dark Meat Strips with Spicy Orange Sauce,” which has only 490 milligrams of sodium, 6 grams of fat and just 220 calories per serving (but it also contains 18 grams of sugar per serving, more than a cup of many sugar breakfast cereals).

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo: HomestarGirl7