Whole milk and white bread are among the casualties of a set of school lunch changes the USDA announced this week. The infusion of $3.2 billion of federal funding for the National School Lunch Program intends to offer children lunches higher in whole grain, vegetables, and fruits, and lower in fat and sodium. The lunches will also monitor portion sizes in a way that leaders hope will help curb the childhood obesity epidemic that affects an estimated 17 percent of American children and teens. Each lunch will cost a projected 6 cents more than current school lunches.
The changes are meant to appeal to kids' palates as well as being good for their bodies. According to the projected new menu, oven-baked fish nuggets will replace breaded beef patties; whole wheat spaghetti with meat sauce will replace hot dogs; and bean and cheese burritos will be replaced with turkey submarine sandwiches. Pizza day, a sacred school institution, will survive, but the cheese pizzas will be served on whole wheat crust, accompanied with baked sweet potato fries rather than the tater tots of yore.
The new regulations are the first changes to national school lunch policy in 15 years, the result of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The changes will begin to be phased in next fall, and will be fully implemented over 3-5 years.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the Maryland-based School Nutrition Association, told MSNBC.com she applauds the changes, but encourages parents to participate in the process of encouraging their kids to make healthier food choices. "We all have to work to get the kids to make these healthier choices," she said. "Students are more apt to pick up a fruit or vegetable in the lunch line if they have been introduced to those foods at home."
Image: School lunch tray, via Shutterstock.