School lunch these days does look a bit better than the mystery meat with gravy and creamed corn of my youth, but what the US Department of Agriculture is calling “historic” new changes will improve it even further. The question is, will kids still eat it?
Here’s what you should know: The changes, which raise nutrition standards for school meals and lower calorie counts across the board, apply to all schools serving meals subsidized by the federal government.
One of the primary initiatives is a motion to lower the calorie count in the average school lunch in an effort to combat rising childhood obesity rates. Elementary students will get 650 calories per meal; middle school students will get up to 700 calories; and high school students will get up to 850. Other changes? Pizza will contain less salt and more whole grains. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas will have to list whole grain as their first ingredient. Only low-fat milk will be offered – no more whole milk – and all flavored milks must be nonfat. In an effort to keep the meals kid-friendly, large servings of fruit will make up more of school lunches. It all starts next school year.
Of course, the plan has its detractors. Some feel the new rules don’t go far enough, according to TIME’s Healthland blog. For example, the USDA had considered scrapping an existing rule that allowed the tomato paste on pizza to be classified as a vegetable, but companies that sell frozen pizzas raised a flap. Don’t worry, even if the tomato paste ruling holds, your child will still be served a veggie, as the new standards call for two servings of vegetables at lunch. French fries made the cut as well, after some fried potato advocates lobbied Congress, but they’ll have to be less salty.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest commended the new standards on NPR’s food blog, The Salt, but criticized Congress’s back-peddling: "The new school standards are a terrific step forward…and they would have been even better if Congress had not meddled."
Still, as I pack my hundredth turkey sandwich for my preschooler, I can’t help noticing that public schools are packing more vegetables into lunches than I am. What do you think of the new standards? Just right? Or not enough?