September 11th, 2013
There’s a common misconception that kids won’t accept healthier school lunches, and that we have to feed them fast food favorites to ensure that they eat something to keep them going during the school day. As it turns out, though, schools around the nation have started to shift towards healthier school lunch choices with great success.
Today I’ve asked my friends and healthy eating advocates from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who’ve been on the front lines of school lunch policy reform, to kick off the new school year by sharing their perspective on the changes happening in school lunchrooms across our country.
Not only do they offer a fresh—and maybe surprising!—perspective on what’s happening in schools today, but they offer resources to support your school in celebrating the changes already made and implementing even more school lunch improvements in the months to come.
We’d love to hear more about the lunchroom in your child’s school. Have you seen improvements?
Like most kids, I loved summer vacation. But as a kid, I didn’t mind going back to school. Admittedly, I was most eager to see my friends. But, I also liked getting school supplies and some new clothes, gearing up for new subjects, and finding out who my new teachers were and who was in my classes. Today, as the mom of a teenage daughter and the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, back to school brings on new meaning and excitement.
For over a decade, I‘ve worked alongside parents, health professionals, advocates, members of Congress, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update the nutrition standards for foods served through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.
After years of hard work, in 2010 we passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a landmark piece of legislation that is one of the biggest steps forward in our nation’s effort to provide children with healthier foods in schools. With one out of every three children overweight or obese and millions of children eating school meals, I think we can all agree it was time to make some improvements.
As a result of this legislation, updated nutrition standards for school meals went into effect last school year and will continue to be phased in over the next few years. These new standards include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, low-fat instead of high-fat milk, and sensible limits on calories, unhealthy fats, and salt.
School food service professionals have been working hard over the past year to implement these healthy nutrition standards. And it’s paying off. More than half of schools across the country are already meeting the updated standards, and many more are well on their way.
And, schools are working to make the meals not only healthy, but more appealing. Just look at how attractive these school lunches are. Almost makes me wish I was back in school.
As the back-to-school season rolls around, I’m encouraged and excited by how far we’ve come over the past few years to improve the nutritional quality of school foods. But, I also know that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that all kids are served healthy foods in all schools.
As your kids head back to school this year, I encourage you to find out if your school is among the many schools meeting these updated school meal standards. If it is, take a minute to congratulate your food service staff and administration. If your school isn’t meeting the standards, find out what the barriers are, and help connect your child’s school with resources and technical assistance.
As parents, we know serving healthy meals—that kids will eat—is a tough job. For more information on how you can support healthy school meals, visit www.schoolfoods.org/back2school or email me at email@example.com.
Margo Wootan, D.Sc.
Director, Nutrition Policy
Center for Science in the Public Interest