School starts again next week for many kids; lots of kids are already in school! While a new school year always brings changes, this year the school lunch is changing. In January 2012, one year after the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 was signed into law, the USDA issued their final, updated standards for school meals.
The main purpose of the Act is to improve the nutrition of foods served at school to help kids achieve better nutrition and to reduce the skyrocketing childhood obesity rate. The core Child Nutrition Programs at the USDA, including the National School Lunch program, School Breakfast program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, WIC, and the Summer Food Service Programs, were reauthorized by the Act.
The Act includes the first major changes to these programs in more than 15 years. More than 32 million students each a lunch at school, and more than 12 million eat breakfast at school every day. The standards in the Act were built on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.
Now, fruits and vegetables will be offered to kids every day of the week. Whole grain foods will be offered more often, and only fat-free or low-fat milk will be available. Proper portion size will be adhered to, and the program increases the focus on reducing saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and sodium.
These changes will be phased in over the next three years so it will be easier for schools to comply with the new law. To help pay for these changes, the USDA has implemented the “6-cent rule”, that gives schools an additional 6 cents for every lunch served that meets the new standards. That is the first increase above the rate of inflation in more than 30 years.