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September 11, 2012

Returning students find healthier school lunches

Students heading back to school will be getting twice the amount of vegetables and fruits on their meal trays, as well as more whole grains, and less salt and unhealthy fats.

The updated school meal standards, unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January, have been highly praised by health and education groups, including the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. The standards set calorie maximums for the first time and lower calorie minimums to better ensure that school meals address obesity, as well as hunger. 

"The new school meal standards are one of the most important measures to promote children’s health in decades," said Center for Science in the Public Interest director of nutrition policy Margo G. Wootan. "With one out of every three children in America overweight or obese, 31 million children eating school lunch, and 15 years since the last update, it was time for a change. School food service professionals are working hard to implement the new standards, and they need the support of parents, teachers, administrators, and food manufacturers." 

A job for everyone 

Parents can help by reinforcing healthy eating at home, and encouraging their kids to try the new menu options, says CSPI. Teachers can try the new school lunches and speak about them with students. School administrators can support the program by showing leadership and support for the programs and help ensure the new standards are fully implemented. State child nutrition programs can continue to support school efforts and provide ideas for menus and recipes. And companies can produce products with more whole grains and less salt. 

The updates to school meals were required by Congress in the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in late 2010. The law also provides additional funding for school meals through several provisions, including the first increase in reimbursement rates (above inflation) in years and reasonable pricing requirements for school lunches and a la carte items. 

Beginning October 1, schools will be eligible to receive an additional six cents for each healthy lunch they serve.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.

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