For the first time in 15 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made significant changes to its rules about school meals. These changes result from passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The final rule based on this act requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements.
Fortunately, Lake Washington School District moved toward a healthier menu, so the changes students experience will be limited. Still, your students will encounter some changes in how they select their meal choices.
You can help them prepare by telling them what will be different. The most visible change is that every student meal will consist of five components:
- Meat/meat alternatives
Every student will be required to take a full portion of at least three of those five components and at least one of them has to be fruit or vegetables. They must take at least half a cup of the fruit and/or vegetables, though larger portions will be available.
For example, a student who selects a meat item, a grain item and a milk item will have to add or substitute a fruit or vegetable. They could, however, choose just the fruit, vegetable and milk items and still meet the new requirements.
They can take four or all five components as well as just three: food services staff will encourage them to take all five. You may want to have a conversation with your student about why a variety of foods is a healthy choice.
Other changes will be items regularly offered on the school menu. Weekly offerings will include roasted vegetables and items made with legumes (such as black, kidney or pinto beans). Starting this fall, 50% of all grains served at lunch must be whole grains. By fall 2014, 100% of all grains served at lunch and breakfast will need to be whole grain.