January 25th, 2012
The Obama administration announced today final changes to the federal school lunch program which feeds roughly 32 million children each school day. These are the first changes made to the program in fifteen years. Though marked by compromise—yes, pizza still counts as a vegetable—the updated standards are expected make marked improvements on the nutritional quality of lunches served in school cafeterias around the country.
Some significant changes, which are expected to phase in over the next three years beginning with the 2012-13 school year, include caloric minimums and maximums, limits on saturated and trans fats, a choice between non-fat milk that can be flavored or unflavored 1% milk, dramatic cuts in sodium, and requirements on the amounts of dark green vegetables, red/orange vegetables, legumes and starchy vegetables that students must be offered. Students will be offered both fruits and vegetables every day for the first time (they choose whether they want to take either and at what portion) and soon schools will offer only whole-grain products. They will also be able to use tofu as a substitute for meat.
Despite the pizza ridiculousness (which has been addressed to some degree—pizza must be made with less salt, whole wheat crust and be accompanied by another vegetable) and the fact that french fries still make the cut (winning approval from the National Potato Council!), the new guidelines have been praised as a meaningful step by both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Here is a sample menu makeover for you to see for yourself the kinds of changes that these new guidelines are supposed to bring.
As always, I’m torn. I accept that change, especially at the federal level, happens incrementally, if not glacially slow. But—on principle more than anything—the pizza-as-a-vegetable thing is so absurd. Despite it being a relatively small concession at the end of the day, it’s so perfectly representative of how the system gets in the way of real change that really matters. That said, the changes are pretty substantive and there’s a lot to be said for that. Used correctly, the new standards can be used to make healthy lunches. Fingers crossed.
Also as always, I’m eager to see what Marion Nestle has to say on the matter. Hop on over to her blog Food Politics—hopefully she’ll have posted about the issue by the time you get there. She’s brilliant, understands the issue deeply and from multiple perspectives and can always get right to the hear of the issue in just a few short paragraphs (unlike some of us!).
What do you think of the school lunch changes: do they go far enough? Will they change how you’ll feed your child lunch during the school week?