Fat and salt-laden school food beware.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture Thursday unveiled proposed nutritional standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the first major upgrade to nutritional requirements in 15 years. The tougher standards are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, recently signed into law by President Obama, that aims to reduce both childhood hunger and obesity.

lunchstandards-featured.jpgThe proposed standards would add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to the meals the government pays for, or subsidizes, for around 32 million schoolchildren daily.  Saturated fat, sodium, calories and trans fats would all have stricter limits under the new rule.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack told reporters Thursday that USDA would help give schools and communities the tools needed to make the transition to healthier meals.  “There are a number of ways school districts can address this without breaking the bank.”

“Raising a healthier generation of kids will require hard work and commitment of a host of partners,” said Vilsack.  “We understand that these improved meal standards may present challenges for some school districts, but the new law provides important new resources, technical assistance and flexibility to help schools raise the bar for our kids.”

The produce industry reacted enthusiastically to the standards, recognizing the opportunity to not only increase sales to the school meal programs, but also to help foster increased long-term produce consumption.

“Fruits and vegetables are the stars of USDA’s goal for healthier school meals, and kids and the produce industry will benefit,” said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh Produce Association vice president of nutrition and health.

Author and food policy expert Marion Nestle lauded the standards, but lamented that there were some loopholes.

“The new standards allow skim ‘flavored’ milk (translation: sugar-sweetened),” said Nestle on her Food Politics website.   “Otherwise, says USDA, kids might not drink milk and will not get enough calcium.  Sigh.  Milk, as I keep saying, is not an essential nutrient.  Chocolate or strawberry milk is a dessert.  Chalk this one up to dairy lobbying.”

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is seeking public comment  on the new standards through April 13. The new standards could be put in place by the time the 2011-12 school year kicks off in the fall. 

  • Donna Poteet

    Do you really think it’s the government’s place to tell OUR children what WE can feed them. No offense, but I think WE are smart enough to raise OUR children in the proper manner without YOUR help.
    Cutting this program with the staff it takes to impliment and monitor would help the budget greatly.
    Just out of curioustity how much money does the government spend a year on telling us what Our kids can eat?
    I can fully understand the need for the free breakfasts and lunches-but then leave it their.

  • Ann Ouellette

    Part of education is teaching children what to eat, and why. It would also be helpful to teach table manners.

  • School food needs to remember this is sometimes main meal for most students with economy so bad. Junk food cheaper to buy when economy so bad. More free meals or earn lunch needs used for those who cannot pay. I worked cleaning dishes and trays for my lunch until my senior year in school then I got to be the cashier. Stop letting free hand outs continue. Train that work and earn things to survive.

  • Howard Penrod Sr

    With New Menu’s For School I Think Alot Of Children Will Be Skipping Lunch.

  • Doc Mudd

    @Donna: To answer your simple question, the 2011 budget for USDA spends an EXTRA $1 Billion this year on school lunches – that’s a new cool billion to divide up among excited purveyors of over-priced fashion foods; wonderfully bland gassy foods that kids couldn’t care less about. But, we’ll teach ’em how to eat, and by God they’ll learn, too.
    If you’re interested, we have another $400 Million in new funding budgeted for Michelle Obama’s “Healthy Food Financing Initiative” to truck trendy foods into backward and vulgar “food deserts”, where currently folks can’t conveniently purchase a decent $5.00 heirloom tomato or your basic $25.00 per pound organic porkchops. Not to worry, Michelle’s shoveling out nearly half a billion dollars to properly subsidize food snobbery and set wrong things a-right in the ‘hood, at long last.
    You’d never know it’s hard times, would you?
    Oh, and by the way, Donna, we common folk ARE much to fat and stupid to know how to feed ourselves and our kids – just ask Marion Nestle and the food taliban if you doubt it, they’ll get you straightened out on the double-quick!

  • Michael Bulger

    Hopefully, this is not a duplicate post:
    Doc, you losing any semblance of maturity. I think it left with your understanding of the USDA budget and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. It’d be interesting if you could back yourself up with facts. However I don’t expect you to take the time to research facts.
    More fun to make fun, eh?
    In the end, you only demean yourself, and the world carries on. (And makes affordable, healthy food available to those who need.)

  • MIsti Garner

    Ms Donna,
    The government HAS been telling us for years what to feed our children. IMO they are not telling us anything. They have fed our children at school for years. Some of the foods the kids eat, I wouldn’t eat myself so I applaud the update in standards. The government has always set the standards…they teach the food pyramid and whatever it’s called now for decades in health classes. So it’s no new thing that there are regulations and school menus. Yay to better, fresher school lunches!

  • Doc Mudd

    Michael, here’s a good starting point for any interested taxpayer to begin doing the critical “research” you cry out for:
    I’m merely breaking the ice on a discussion of wasted economic resources by exposing a couple of your cult’s latest pricy pet pork projects – I’ve not begun “making fun” yet. This issue is much, much too serious in our current depressed economy for immature levity (as you accuse) or whining distraction (as you practice). Hell, we have yet to render transparent any of the considerable cash grant give-aways slurped up by ‘alternative’ farmers over the past several decades, and how little we all have to show for that speculative public investment.
    Relax Michael. Trust me, you will know when I begin to ridicule frivolous ‘wealthy food’ priorites and corresponding agregious tax-funded waste.

  • Michael Bulger

    The money for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs is not an “extra billion” that the USDA is going to spend. It is reallocated money that already was in the Federal budget. It has just been directed to a new purpose.
    In fact this article states that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will SAVE $11 million dollars from the federal deficit by 2020:
    On the topic of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, I must reiterate that the food deserts will not be facing ” $5.00 heirloom tomato or your basic $25.00 per pound organic porkchops,” as Doc Mudd claims. I have personally had the opportunity to volunteer with one organization that has been at the forefront of making healthy, fresh foods available to underserved neighborhoods. Several of my friends still work for this organization, and I know first-hand that the food they offer for sale is priced below what I pay.
    As USDA Secretary Vilsack notes, affordability is a core goal for the program. The following is quoted from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website:
    “Our effort to improve access to healthy and affordable food is a critically important step toward First Lady Michelle Obama’s goal to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “The Healthy Food Financing Initiative will enhance access to healthy and affordable choices in struggling urban and rural communities, create jobs and economic development, and establish market opportunities for farmers and ranchers.”

  • Brandon

    I teach in a K-4 setting. The most common lunch foods I see brought from home? Ramen noodles, cup-o-soup, individual servings of of dinty moore, followed closely by lunchables, star crunches, cosmic brownies, and a multitude of little debbies. I have one girl who I know is not on assistance.
    Her most common lunch was a go-gurt, 3 granola bars, gatorade, and a pack of cosmic brownies.
    Somebody needs to tell parents what to feed their kids. McDonald’s is not good for them by a long shot.
    Look at the movie Super-Size Me. If it jacked his adult body up that bad, guess what it would do to a young developing body.
    School lunch should be healthy, nutritious, and filling. If they are spending the money, they should make sure they spend it wisely and take care of the kids.

  • sarah

    Brandon, I agree with you. Most home packed lunches are, from what I’ve witnessed, unhealthier than the lunch the school provides. I suspect you’ll see more kids with home packed lunches filled with neon green jellos, corn syrup filled sandwiches and a never ending array of golden-brown deliciousness. :<

  • Laura

    I am so happy to hear that the standards are changing finally! I worked in the inner city over the summer and had first hand experience to what children are fed that is “USDA approved” It consisted of processed flour sandwiches filled with salty lunch meat, snacks laden with high fructose corn syrup and it was all suppose to be made better because they also were rewarded with a token piece of fruit. The kids would bring bags of chips from home throw the sandwich in the garbage and barter the snack away. We were left with baskets fo fruit. I would say that yes the parents need to be taught what to feed their children. How can children be expected to perform on such a diet? If it starts at the parent level it should filter down to the child. Yeah Michelle for pushing for the change!

  • Milk is a weak source of calcium. The dairy industry hypes calcium but people can get more and better forms of calcium from green vegetables.
    Even skim milk is very high in fat and the questionable protein casein which has been linked to cancer promotion.
    Little mention is made here of ground beef. The hamburger sold to schools is often the lowest grade available and is full of by products like skin and fat. Beef if popular but its also basically junk food on this level.

  • Kris

    Donna, These new standards do not affect what you can buy at the supermarket or what you can pack in your kids’ lunchboxes. If your kids are not getting free or reduced-price lunch, then you can feed your kids whatever you want. If your kids *are* getting free or reduced-price lunches, then you are asking for the government’s help and it’s only right that the govt would do its best by you and your kids.

  • Jackie

    I have a child who canNOT drink soy or cows milk, she can only drink goats milk. She has so many alleries its not funny! My kids do get free lunches because 1/2 of my kids are foster kids. I also work at my kids school & I find the lunches to be healthier then the lunches that kids bring in. Very few times I think I should send lunch in with my kids. So what is the Government going to do about the children who have allergies & can’t have their meal plans? We have children allergic to peanuts, breads, milks, fruits, etc… I want to know what happens to those kids?