Each year, the USDA’s National School Lunch Program serves school meals to over 32 million American school-children.
And, while school-lunch jokes abound about nutritionally void chicken nuggets and ketchup-as-a-vegetable, the free and reduced-price lunches served to children from income-eligible families in many aspects represent the most nutritious – or only nutritious – foods that child may have access to that day.
Now, after years of criticism about the easily circumventable nutrition standards of the NSLP, the USDA – in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! campaign – have unveiled their proposed changes to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, slated to start with the 2012-2013 school year.
The final standards put into place the following changes:
- Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
- Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods
- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties
- Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size, and
- Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium
These changes – a component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – aim to reduce the amount of calories from added sugars and fats in school-based meal and snack programs.
According to the USDA, these new standards are expected to cost an additional $3.2 billion over the next 5 years (the NSLP cost $10.8 billion to administer in 2010). Children from families under 130% of the poverty line are eligible for free lunch and children from families at 130-185% of the poverty line pay no more than $0.40 for reduced-price meals.
To see a comparison of the old menu vs. the new changes for a week of school lunches, click here. To learn more about the National School Lunch Program and other USDA nutrition assistant programs, visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Services website at www.fns.usda.gov/fns.