City Districts Gradually Embracing New USDA School Food Agenda

Wichita, Kansas schools are changing their lunch menus to provide more healthy options, Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Wichita Eagle reports. The mid-day meals will no contain fewer harmful carbohydrates like pizza and french fries and more lean proteins, fruits and whole grain breads.

The changes are in part due to the new lunch standards being adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is the first time that nutritional guidelines for schools meals have seen a nationwide overhaul in over 15 years. According to Tobias, it’s going to be a few years before districts around the country are forced to comply, but Wichita wants to get a head start by adopting the new standards this fall.

“It’s not a revolution but an evolution, a gradual change,” said Vicki Hoffman, director of nutrition services for Wichita schools.

“We’ve always done our best to be a little ahead of the game, and that serves us well.”

The new meal standards are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat lunch at school every day.

The USDA not only set minimum and maximum calorie counts for meals, but they also require a change from full-fat to low-fat or non-fat milk. The standards also call for elimination of all trans fats from the meals and a gradual reduction in sodium from the current 1,600 milligrams, which is more than twice the recommended daily allowance for children. Schools will have ten years to reduce the student daily intake to 740 milligrams or less.

Although proposed changes to lunch menus long predate the recent announcement by the American Medical Association that obesity is a disease, childhood obesity has been considered a growing problem among American kids. First Lady Michelle Obama has brought focus to issue since her husband took office in 2009, and her efforts are part of the reason why the USDA undertook to overhaul their school lunch standards. Mrs. Obama, however, wasn’t alone:

Meanwhile, a prime-time network reality show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” is aiming to change American eating habits, particularly in schools. Last year the British chef went to the most obese town in America — Huntingdon, W.Va. —and worked with the school system to change what it fed children. This season Oliver is taking his movement to Los Angeles, where school officials so far have not been welcoming.

Hoffman admits that the district will need to overcome a number of challenges in order to meet the new standards, because like many other large school districts they’re unable to offer hand-made lunches. Meals are typically packaged offsite and trucked to the schools because hiring people to cook them in the lunchrooms of each school would be too expensive.