New USDA Lunch Guidelines Mean Healthier Fare

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New USDA Lunch Guidelines Mean Healthier Fare
New guidelines just released by the USDA will mean major changes to some school lunch menus across the country.
School lunches will be finally getting a new look, thanks to new federal guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency unveiled their plan for more nutritious school cafeteria food this week, amidst concerns by many regarding the increasing obesity rate among America’s youth today. The new guidelines will be implemented during the 2012-2013 school year. While most are applauding the new dietary guidelines, some are worried that the USDA didn’t go far enough in ensuring children get the most nutritious fare possible while they are at school.

Why New Lunch Guidelines?

According to a report at Fox News, the USDA stated the new guidelines are “intended to respond to serious concerns about childhood obesity and the importance for children to consume nutritious school meals within their calorie needs.” Currently, one in every three children in the United States is considered overweight or obese. The concerns have also been mounting in light of the fact that more children are taking advantage of the breakfast programs in their schools – making the fare provided by schools an even more significant amount of the nutritional content supplied to children most days of the week. The Chicago Tribune states that these rules represent the first major change to school meal standards in 15 years!

“The future of America is about our children, about making sure that the foods they eat allow them to become meaningful members of our communities,” Jose Andres, chef and restaurateur, told the Washington Post. “Good food is the beginning of a better tomorrow."
Members of the medical community have also applauded the USDA’s efforts to provide a more nutritious, balanced menu to school-age children across the country.
“These changes to school food standards are welcome, commendable and unquestionably helpful in efforts to combat childhood obesity and all of the metabolic mayhem that follows in its wake,” David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, stated at the Washington Post.
What do the New Guidelines Look Like?
The new USDA guidelines recommend that schools serve up more fresh fruits and vegetables on their daily menus. The guidelines also require the switch to whole grains whenever possible, ranging from pasta to breads. In addition, a press release at Market Watch states that the USDA is providing very specific rules regarding dairy products, especially the milk kids get with their lunches. Under the new guidelines, schools will only be allowed to offer fat-free or low-fat white milk with school meals. If students want flavored milk, it must be a fat-free variety. The press release states that the National Dairy Council is also in favor of the new USDA guidelines.
“On average, by the time they are four years old, children fall below the dietary guidelines for Americans’ recommended dairy intake,” Jean H. Ragalie, R.D., president of the National Dairy Council, stated in the press release. “By requiring that schools offer low-fat or fat-free milk with every meal, these standards can help children come closer to meeting their nutrient needs. Building nutrient-rich school meals is an important step toward helping students develop healthy eating patterns at an early age, and we commend the USDA for making important updates to school nutrition standards at a time when providing children access to proper nutrition has never been more important.”
Caloric Restrictions also Set
In addition to guidelines on what to serve, the USDA is also laying down limits on how much to serve children at each meal. Caloric restrictions will now be a part of school lunch limits, which ensure students are getting enough calories to make it through their school day without consuming more than they need. This means lunches for elementary-age students are not to exceed 650 calories, while sixth through eighth grades will receive 700 calories for lunch. High school students will be able to consume as many as 850 calories during their midday meal.
The guidelines are expected to give parents peace of mind in how much nutrition their children are receiving during the school day, and they provide a model for what they can be doing at home to ramp up their healthy content of their meals.
“So now, when you go home from a long day at work, you can feel better about what your child ate for lunch at school,” Hansa Bhargava at WebMD, stated in the Washington Post. “And at home, you can use these guidelines as well, so that you and the school are working as a team to make sure your son or daughter is the healthiest he or she can be.”
Some Say New Rules Don’t Go Far Enough
While most people are applauding the new guidelines, others are concerned that they don’t go far enough in ensuring students get the most nutritious meals possible. For example, the school menus will still include French fries with some meals, after Congress vetoed the original restriction against fries. Lawmakers also left pizza classified as a vegetable because of the tomato paste used on the pie. Trade associations representing sellers of these foods may have played a role in swaying lawmakers’ opinions on these particular restrictions.
“The only disappointment is that Congress did not allow USDA to limit French fries, and that they were forced to continue to count pizza as a vegetable,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Washington Post. “But at least that pizza will be lower in sodium and have a whole-grain crust and be served with an additional vegetable on the side.”

Finally, school lunches will begin catching up to the times in providing our children with more nutritious fare.  However, we hope that more work will be done to give children the healthiest fare possible during school hours.

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