The Latest on School Nutrition: New USDA Standards
Last August the School Nutrition Association released their “The State of School Nutrition 2011,” which found many school nutritionists and foodservice workers eager to provide healthier menu items at their schools.
Unfortunately, many schools cited monetary reasons as to why they were unable to enhance menus. Other schools just hadn’t made the switch yet.
There’s been a huge emphasis on school nutrition and health since Michelle Obama stepped into her role as first lady.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed in December 2010, the food pyramid was revamped into MyPlate and Mrs. Obama initiated the Let’s Move! campaign, which aims to create a healthier generation of children.
So while some things have just been encouraged or implemented as guides, come July 1, schools will have to start making changes based on the USDA’s new standards.
The new standards were announced on Jan. 25 and stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Per the USDA’s website, the new rules are to:
- Offer fruits and vegetables to students daily
- Increase offering of whole grain-rich foods
- Provide only fat-free or low-fat milk
- Limit calories based on age so students receive their appropriate portion size
- Reduce amounts of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium
Schools must begin making changes at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, but will have three year period to implement all revisions.
While some critics say more can be done for school nutrition, many are pleased, including Sarah Wu, former anonymous blogger for her blog Fed Up with Lunch (also known as Mrs. Q, read our October interview with her here).
“I think it’s really great, actually,” she said. “I’m pretty pleased with them and it’s definitely a good step in the right direction. There’s more we can do, but I’m totally happy.”
One of Wu’s biggest concerns goes back to the reason why many schools hadn’t made the move to healthier items in the first place: money.
“I think I’m concerned about how districts will make it work with the money they have,” she said.
According to the USDA, the price of school menus will increase by six cents—which is the first big increase in the last 30 years.
To compensate, the USDA will increase funding to cover the six cents. However, Wu pointed out despite the increased funding, she mentioned it’s been said the cost for the new standards may actually be 11 cents per meal. If that is the end result, the five cent difference could be challenging for schools.
“There are ways instead of having to absorb those losses,” Wu said, and wonders if schools could get in touch with local non-profits, foundations, have fundraisers, etc.
“There have to be ways people can engage and help.”
So cost aside, Wu and many others are pleased with these new standards.
In the USDA’s press release, they also had other improvements they would like to make such as to have nutritional standards apply to all ways students get food and beverage (i.e. vending), have “common-sense pricing standards for schools” and provide training and technical assistance to help schools comply with the new standards.
To view more information about the new guidelines, including links to sample menus and more, visit the USDA’s website.
How do you feel about the USDA’s new standards? Schools, how will this impact you directly?