Changes to National School Lunch Program

How new legislation impacts your student.


Each day the National School Lunch program feeds more than thirty million children in grades K-12 and while the composition of the meal is guided by very specific nutrition guidelines school lunch has been the target of much criticism. Last month the U.S. Department of Agriculture released new regulations to update the meal pattern. Starting with the 2012-13 school year the new standards will be phased into schools over a three year period.

The new guidelines are the result of the growing concerns about childhood obesity and an increasing number of families who struggle to get access to enough food. As a result of this concern the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in December of 2010, focused on shifting food choices to not only boost nutrition but to keep calories in balance. With the growing incidence of childhood obesity experts project that nearly one in three children are at risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease, with some projections indicating that children will get these diseases at earlier ages than preceding generations.

In addition, in 2010 more than seventeen million US households, with an estimated sixteen million children in these households, struggled to put enough food on the table. School lunch can provide the nutrition these children might otherwise be missing.

The guidelines for the new school lunch program, which are designed to be age specific, include the following broad recommendations.

  • Fruits and vegetables must be offered daily
  • At least half of the grains offered must be whole grains with a progression to all grains must be whole grains by the school year 2014-15
  • Fat-free (unflavored or flavored) and unflavored low-fat milk only
  • Calories are provided by age, with an indication of minimum and maximum levels
  • Saturated and trans fats are limited
  • Sodium reductions are phased in over the three year implementation period
  • Weekly meat/meat alternate ranges are provided

In addition to these guidelines, schools will receive an increase in their dollar allocation to help them as they make these changes. Schools will also have access to more materials, both for employees and students, to help them change how they prepare food, to help them involve students in menu planning and to help them provide more education around the healthier offerings.

School lunch is an essential part of children’s learning day so making the meal more nutritious is one way to help them fuel their bodies and their brains.

You can see the meal patterns for the new school lunch requirements before they are implemented.

dorishamill February 08, 2012 at 07:44 AM
I used to think that buying bigger was better, Meal planning is key, so look for the items you’d need to create healthy meals, Plan your meals based on what’s on sale and see if you can find samples from "Get Official Samples" that is even better
Jeanne Malmberg Spencer February 08, 2012 at 02:19 PM
It would be nice if the schools would go back to making their own meals, versus relying on heat & serve options, which are so prevalent today. I've been to school and so many kids don't eat what is served or they will only eat the bread or dessert. I would also like to see schools focus on trying new foods and eating what they are given each day. We leave it up to the kids to eat, but if they have never tried a cucumber or tomato, then why would they eat it on their lunch plate? By investing in a program that gets all kids trying the foods and encouraging them to be adventurous, you are more likely to have kids develop healthier habits. I've heard of programs across the country that are doing it and it's fantastic! I'd also like to see them define fruits & veggies to exclude things like raisins, corn, and iceberg lettuce, while focusing on fresh or frozen options. Corn and raisins offer fiber, but are also high in sugar. The low-fat or no-fat milk bothers me. I'd rather the kids get fat from these than the fat that is in some of processed foods. Many of these kids need the fat & calories because they don't get much to eat at home or are underweight due to health problems (like ADHD). Also, what are they doing for kids with milk allergies, now that juice is not served. All of it just leads our family to boycott the school lunch program and pack lunches each day, always with a balanced meal. I wish more parents would do this.


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