As we head back-to-school this year new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation will take effect. The new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was championed by First Lady, Michelle Obama, as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.
These standards make practical changes that ensure children have access to nutrient-rich food choices at school to help them be successful in developing healthy lifestyles they can carry into adulthood. The standards include:
- Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
- Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
- Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
- Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and aimed to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home, such as making sure that kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains and portion sizes that provide calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight. Milk must be offered with every meal and water is available as an alternative.
The Dietary Guidelines state three servings of dairy foods every day are an important part of balanced diet contributing key nutrients needed for good health. Milk, cheese and yogurt contribute those important nutrients to the school meal program. In fact milk, flavored or plain, is the number one food source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D in children’s diets and continues to be required to be offered at both breakfast and lunch.
Flavored milk in general contributes only 3 percent of the added sugars in children’s diets compared with almost 50 percent contributed by soda and fruit drinks. Here in Fort Worth, Borden’s New Flavored Milk for school foodservice in Strawberry, Vanilla or Chocolate, not only delivers taste, but exceeds the new nutrition standards. The new fat-free milk contains 18 grams of sugar (12 grams are naturally occurring), only 180 mg of sodium or less and 110 calories per 8 ounce serving. With no preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or artificial growth hormones, it is a great choice for school lunchrooms. Flavored milk is the perfect combination of good taste and good nutrition! More importantly, flavored milk is a good option for kids who don’t prefer milk.
Overall, the new guidelines will help moms and dads not only in Fort Worth but across the map to achieve their goal of teaching kids to eat their veggies, fruit and whole grains as well as drink their milk. As a registered dietitian, that’s an A+ in my grade book!