School Lunches Set to Become Healthier This Fall

The last two years have seen changes in the contents of school lunches, and that trend continues through 2012. This time, the change will come as a result of the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act passed in 2010, which was scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of July. The new law brings about school lunch alterations that the Dyersburg State Gazette describes as the biggest in the 30-year-history of the federal school lunch program.

The main goal of the new legislation is to make the mid-day meal served to countless school kids around the country healthier. Schools will now be required to take into account the newest U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations when designing their menus; meals will have to meet additional requirements such as a minimum and the maximum number of calories per meal and contain at least three out of five food groups outlined in the My Tray. My Health. pictographic.

Grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy are all among the choices, but your children’s plate must include at least half a cup of fruit or vegetable or they will be charged a la carte.

The fat content of lunches will also be strictly regulated. Less than 10% of the calories of the whole meal can come from saturated fats, and trans fats are completely verboten. Students will no longer get the full-fat version of milk with their lunches with 1% fat or less allowed for regular milk. For the popular flavored variety preferred by students everywhere, only non-fat is allowed.

Fifty percent of the recommended grain allowance must come from whole grains, and a fruit snack must always be made available. Schools should rotate their vegetable options on a weekly basis.

“This is as big for us as the teacher evaluations were for teachers and administrators last year,” said Amy Hester, supervisor of food services for Dyer County Schools. “We’re going to roll with the punches and do the best we can and serve kids with a smile on our face.”

Although the caloric content of lunches will also be regulated, it doesn’t mean that students can eat only that much and no more. But, for example, if a middle schooler wants an additional snack that will take him or her out of the 600-700 calorie window, ponying up additional cash will be required. Anything above the calorie allotment will be charged at a la carte rates and will not be reimbursed to the school under the federal school lunch program.

The question was also raised by a coach, what about athletes in training such as football players who consume a larger number of calories during the season? The law makes no exceptions for athletes, but Hester and Dyersburg City Schools Nutrition Supervisor Ann Cook commented that the they are constantly receiving new information as implementation moves forward and there is always the possibility for more changes.