Students should notice a change on their trays
this fall thanks to new lunch standards that require schools to
offer fruits and vegetables every school day, only fat-free and
low-fat milk options, and more whole grains. Calorie limits for
students will also be set based on grade level.
The new national standard for school meals
that’s behind this change is just one of five major components of
the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle
Obama as part of her Let’s Move! health and wellness campaign. The
goal of the program is to combat childhood obesity and to encourage
healthy eating habits in children.
The changes are the first in 15 years to the
$11 billion school lunch program that serves about 32 million
students around the U.S.
A Healthy Change
To meet the new standards, most schools will
need to double the amount of fruits and vegetables they serve, and
must offer specific categories of vegetables weekly (leafy green,
orange/red, legumes, and beans). The standards also limit the
quantity of processed, starchy vegetables (such as tater tots and
canned corn) schools can offer throughout the week.
A typical school lunch in 2011-12 might have
featured canned pineapple slices, baby carrots with ranch dip, pizza
sticks with full-fat mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce for
dipping, and 1 percent milk.
For the 2012-13 school year, a typical lunch
may include a chef salad with leafy green lettuce served with
low-fat mozzarella cheese, grilled chicken, and a whole-wheat roll;
oven-baked sweet potato fries; fresh kiwi halves; raw vegetables
(such as broccoli or cherry tomatoes); and 1 percent milk. Water
must be made available for students to drink.
The regulations also put calorie caps on
lunches based on grade levels. Maximum calories per served lunch
are: 650 calories for grades K-5; 700 calories for grades 6-8; and
850 calories for grades 9-12.
Other aspects of the program include:
Whole-grain bread, pasta, tortillas and
rice will be offered rather than their refined counter parts;
White milk must be fat-free or 1 percent;
Flavored milk, such as chocolate and
strawberry, must be fat-free;
Meals will contain less saturated fat,
trans fats and sodium;
Students who buy lunch will be able to
pick and choose from a variety of healthy options; and
Although meal prices will likely rise
nationwide to meet these new standards, students who receive
free and reduced lunches will not see a price increase for their
The changes that took effect in July are just
the first steps in a three-year plan to phase-in the new standards.
Changes to breakfasts and snacks served in school will happen over
the next two years.
Overall, the new standards will cost about
$3.2 billion to implement over the next five years, according to the
United States Department of Agriculture, but the government plans to
reimburse schools an additional six cents per meal. In order for
meals to qualify for state and federal reimbursements, students must
take at least three of the five offered components each day.
The additional six-cent reimbursement is intended to help offset the
cost of buying more fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods.
Even with the additional reimbursement, many districts around the
state will need to increase lunch prices because the new law
requires them to set their school lunch prices on an equitable level
with the free and reduced lunch reimbursements from the federal
National Food Service Program.
The Fort Plain Central School District Board of Education voted to
increase the cost of lunch for students in kindergarten through
third grade by 30 cents at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Lunch will now cost $1.80 for all grades in the district.
The requirement – referred to as the “Paid
Lunch Equity” rule – states that the price of a school lunch must be
at least the difference between the federal reimbursement rate for a
free and paid lunch.
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