Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Policy Point Wednesday - School Lunch: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back?

This Friday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack sent a letter to Congress outlining new changes to the National School Lunch Program.  As you may have read, the new lunches have come under fire primarily for reductions in meats, meat alternates and grains.  Vilsack reports that while the original Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was carefully developed to best meet the needs of the students it serves, the USDA has decided on some changes.

The blog Obama Foodorama linked a copy of Vilsack's letter, which states:
  • "This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week."
In addition to complaints about hungry kids and kids who won't eat vegetables, the USDA has been made aware that school lunchrooms aren't able to find products that allow them to keep grains and proteins within both the minimum and maximum calorie requirements for the program.  Essentially, Vilsack has decided to waive the calorie cap on these products for the time being - how that will translate to students' plates remains to be seen.

Vilsack does note that the new guidelines still offer twice as many fruits and vegetables and more whole grains than prior school lunches.
     "As directed by Congress under the HHFKA, USDA relied on the recommendations of experts like the Institute of Medicine- a gold standard for scientific analysis- as the basis for our standards. The result was updated, science-based standards, in which the portions of school meals are "right-sized" to reflect the age and dietary needs of the students served and the appropriate balance  between food groups.They are designed to ensure that children have the energy they need to learn in class and be physically active, while reducing their risk for serious chronic diseases."
He also notes that lunches are not intended to provide the full day's calories for any child, so children who are especially active may need to purchase extra food a la carte, or bring food from home, and school booster clubs and PTAs may need to step in to support more active kids.  The Healthier School Day FNS website has more information on how and why school lunch has changed, and how the guidelines were created to support children during the school day.

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