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School Lunch Nutrition Standards – Time for a Change

School Lunch Nutrition Standards - Time for a ChangeFourteen years is a long time. In this period of time, many of us have:

  • upgraded our cell phone, computer hardware, and software several times.
  • gotten married, delivered babies and have raised them up to puberty.
  • moved into the digital age, set up our blogs, and expanded our social media.

In the meantime, obesity has become an epidemic, even among children, and smoking bans are in place almost everywhere. Very few things have remained unchanged during the last 14 years. And one of them is the US Nutrition Standards and Meal Requirements for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). No kidding! The standards have been in place in 1995 and haven’t been updated ever since.

In July this year, Joan Blades of MomsRising.org challenged moms to take the following test

Which of the following is considered a junk food according to national school nutrition standards?

  • A. Hi-C Blast – vitamin fortified sugar water
  • B. Poland Springs seltzer water – water with bubbles
  • C. French fries
  • D. Candy Bars

I am sure most, if not all of us, got it wrong by just using our common sense. The correct answer is – brace yourself – B water. No, this isn’t a joke. Based on the current nutritional standards, it is the only item on the list that does not contain any vitamins or minerals. If you think this is all rubbish, then you are not alone. In fact, MomsRising prepared a petition to the Congress to “update outdated nutrition standards immediately to ensure our schools provide healthy food for our children.”

It seems that their prayers have been answered. Earlier this week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the report School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children which reviewed the NSLP as well as the US School Breakfast Program (SBP). And on top of the list of the IOM recommendations are: more fruits and vegetables! The recommendations are aiming to be consistent with 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans set by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In general terms, the IOM committee advise to take the following into consideration in menu planning:

  • increase the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • set a minimum and maximum level of calories.
  • increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat and sodium provided.

Here’s what the changes, if ever implemented will bring:

  • An increase in the amount of fruit offered in school breakfast to 1 cup per day for all students
  • An increase in the amount of fruit offered in school lunch to 1 cup per day for students in grades 9-12
  • An increase in the amount of vegetables offered in school lunch to ¾ cup per day for grades K-8 and to 1 cup per day for grades 9-12
  • An acknowledgment that improving the nutritional value of school meals by increasing servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will increase the cost of breakfast by 25% and lunch by 9%
  • A requirement that students take at least one serving of fruit at breakfast and at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at lunch.
  • A reduction in sweetened beverages to be replaced by water, low-fat or nonfat milk, and unsweetened fruit juices.

With these recommendations, the answer to the above question completely changes. In fact, our common sense was right in the first place. Let’s hope it won’t take another 14 years for the recommendations to be implemented…

The IOM report comes in a timely manner. Oct 5 was National Child Health Day and Oct 12 to 16 was National School Lunch Week.


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