By Kasi Pleasants
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), schools provide meals to more than 40 million children a day. Staggering childhood obesity statistics show that 17 percent or 2.5 million children and adolescents in America are obese, which makes it essential that school meals, the sole source of nutrition for many of these children, be nutritious.
First lady Michelle Obama initiated Let's Move! in 2010 to help fight childhood obesity. While promoting the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which allowed the USDA to establish nutrition guidelines for school lunch and breakfast programs, Obama stated, "We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. These are the basic values that we all share, regardless of race, party, religion."
Currently, school meals are required to meet minimal components of the dietary guidelines for Americans including no more than 35 percent of calories from fat (10 percent from saturated fat) and meals must provide one third of the recommended dietary allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. However, many parents along with Obama are not satisfied with these guidelines and believe school meals are in much need of a makeover.
On Jan. 25, Obama, along with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, announced new school lunch nutrition standards that will go into effect July 1. The following guidelines will significantly increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in schools, while reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium, and set calorie limits based on the age of children being served. Below are the guidelines for the school lunch makeover.
- No more than one third of school lunch (one fourth of school breakfast) calories can come from fat; less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
- School meals must meet strict calorie limits based on the child's age.
- Schools must gradually reduce sodium levels in meals.
- Cafeterias must offer larger servings of vegetables and fruit with every school lunch and children must take at least one serving.
- Schools must offer a variety of vegetables, including at least a weekly serving of dark green and red or orange vegetables and legumes.
- Milk must be fat-free or 1 percent (flavored milk must be fat-free).
- Within two years, all grains offered must be whole-grain.
Sarah Bates, a Charleston County School District food service supervisor, reports that the district's Office of Nutrition and Food Services is in favor of the changes. She also believes that this campaign will bring more positive attention to how food choices affect individuals' health and well-being.
However, Bates argues that these guidelines do not prevent schools from serving unhealthy food choices in vending machines and schools stores. "We can only hope the students will embrace the new options favorably, and not be tempted by the other unhealthy items offered elsewhere on campus," she said.
Healthy revisions to school lunches come with a cost. It is estimated that the changes will add $3.2 billion to the school lunch program, which leaves a lot of people wondering whose pockets these changes will affect. However, can anyone put a price value on the health of our children?
To learn more about the campaign, visit http://www.letsmove.gov/ and to learn about the National School Lunch program, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/.