The USDA will announce on Thursday that for the first time in 15 years, The National School Lunch Program is going to undertake a major overhaul of its notoriously lax – and laughable – nutrition guidelines. Among the proposed changes confirmed by the USDA:
- Only one starchy vegetable per week – limiting the “french fries are a vegetable” out
- Ban most trans fats
- Establish a first-ever calorie limit for school meals
- Make all milk nonfat or 1% and all flavored milks be nonfat
- Gradual increase of required whole grains with eventual goal of most grains being whole
- Incorporate a grain and a protein into the school breakfast program, instead of just one or the other as it is now
If you want to get a sneak peak at how the USDA envisions their new menu will contrast to the previous guidelines in a theoretic elementary school – check out this chart: http://www.usda.gov/documents/cnr-chart.pdf
These nutrition improvement announcements come on the heels of President Obama’s December 2010 signing of the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act“, a child nutrition bill that increases reimbursement to participating schools for the provision of healthier foods.
So what does an “increase” mean? In this case, the bump in reimbursement to schools providing free lunches to qualifying students is exactly an extra 6 cents per meal. SIX CENTS. And for some clarity: the 2010-2011 reimbursement rate for schools providing free lunches to qualifying kids is already a measly $2.72 per meal. You try making a nutritious, fresh, appealing meal for kids with high fat, high calorie USDA commodity food and $2.72 in reimbursement!
So how much good will these proposed changes do? To put it simply: while setting lofty school lunch standards may make for good politics – six cents doesn’t realistically amount to massive change.