It was just over a year ago that President Obama signed into law the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This act adds $3.2 billion to the pot (originally estimated at $4.5 billion) and reauthorized child nutrition programs for five years.
This act offered many improvements -- giving USDA authority to set nutritional standards for foods sold in schools, increased the amount of reimbursement (as the program is implemented) to the schools that meet updated nutritionals up to 11 cents per lunch and 28 cents per breakfast which is the first increase in 30 years, improvement of nutritional quality of commodity foods that schools receive from USDA, and to require schools to make information about the foods they serve available to parents, to name just a few.
The objective is relatively simple: provide the 31 million children grades K to 12 who rely on school lunch, "nutrient dense (high in nutrients and low in calories meals" and to empower them with healthy eating habits to reverse obesity and the diseases created by this epidemic. The USDA reports "that many of these children receive most, if not all, of their meals at school," and that "one out of three children in the US are now considered overweight or obese."
So is there really a change?
This morning, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced what Vilsack called "an historic opportunity to improve the quality and quantity of the school meal programs." And change there is. Highlights of the 280-page report include: lowering calories and sodium in all foods served, more fruits and vegetables, requiring all grains be rich in whole grains within two years, removing all trans fats, and that chocolate milk be fat-free. Compliance must begin by July 1, 2012.
For a sample of the USDA's "before" and "after" five-day menu, go to: www.usda.gov/documents/cnr_chart.pdf.
According to Diane Pratt-Heavner of the School Nutrition Association, which represents over 55,000 school nutrition professionals, many schools have already implemented many of these improvements. In fact on their website, traytalk.org, there is a series of videos made by school nutritionists that highlight the changes that have already been implemented (full disclosure: I supply the editing of these videos to SNA). After today's announcement, Pratt said "these new nutrition standards are great news for our kids. They will help school nutrition professionals build on their efforts to offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-sodium entrees in our school cafeterias."
Parents and others are concerned and involved. The USDA reported that they received a total of 133,268 public comments about the rule. No surprise, and when I spoke to school nutrition professionals at the Child Nutrition Industry Conference held in Orlando just about a week ago, they said one of the most important things that parents can do is come to their schools and actually sit down with the children and have lunch. When they do, many are surprised to see just how far school lunch has come since their school days.
Reviewing the final rule shows these top-line changes to school lunch:
And this appears to be just the start. The new rule includes provisions that will also regulate all foods sold in schools, including in vending machines.
This announcement may just move The First Lady's goal of reducing obesity in a generation a step closer to reality.
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