USDA Aims To Boost School Lunches

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The number of obese American adults outweighs the number of those who are merely overweight, according to the latest statistics from the federal government, and nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese. Adults have the freedom to choose to choose what they eat, but children’s meals are provided by adults. It clear that as a nation, we need to make better choices for ourselves and for our kids.

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules aim to boost the nutritional quality of the federally subsidized meals consumed by roughly 32 million U.S. schoolchildren daily. Accustomed to a steady diet of pizza and French fries, students will now find more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on their cafeteria trays under new government school lunch rules. For example, a new meal for an elementary school lunch might consist of whole-wheat spaghetti with meat sauce and a whole-wheat roll, a vegetable mix of green beans, broccoli and cauliflower, plus sliced kiwi, low-fat milk, low-fat ranch dip and soft margarine.

That lunch would replace a meal of a hot dog on a bun with ketchup, canned pears, raw celery and carrots with ranch dressing, and low-fat chocolate milk.

The overhaul comes just months after U.S. lawmakers acted to maintain pizza’s status as a vegetable and killed proposed limits on weekly servings of starchy foods like potatoes. Trade groups representing frozen-pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods, Inc. and Schwan Food Co., as well as French fry distributors McCain Foods Ltd. and J.R. Simplot Co., were instrumental in blocking rule changes affecting those items.

The new standards will be largely phased in, starting in the 2012-13 school year. They are expected to cost roughly $3.2 billion to implement over the first five years. The USDA gives school districts money for student lunches and breakfasts through its $18 billion school meals program. Some school districts already have moved in the direction of the new rules. Results have been mixed. Julia Bauscher, director of school nutrition services for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, said her district already is serving whole-grain breads and greens like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce. Bauscher acknowledged that children complained when the district started serving fewer potatoes to the 100,000 students in the meals program.

“School meals can help children develop lifelong healthy eating habits—or they can prime them for a life filled with unnecessary suffering,” said Dawn Undurraga, staff nutritionist with Environmental Working Group. “It’s time we created healthier food environments for our kids, both at home and in the school cafeteria.”

For more on this topic, check out the article on the Reuters website.

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