Healthy Changes Coming to School Lunches

It's estimated that at least 20 percent to 30 percent of children ages 2-to-17 years are obese. As part of the campaign to combat this alarming health issue, First Lady Michelle Obama announced in January new nutrition rules that would apply to government-subsidized lunch programs. These changes to school lunch programs include:

  • greater variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables
  • more whole-grain options (by 2014-2015, all options must be whole grain)
  • calorie limits based on children's ages (students in kindergarten through fifth grade, for example, will be served a maximum of 650 calories per lunch)
  • whole milk no longer offered (skim milk, along with low-fat milk, must now be available)
  • per-meal amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium must be lower

Will these changes make a difference? Maybe. I think they are definitely a step in the right direction. School lunch programs as they now exist are a nutritional nightmare.

Pros of the Proposed Changes

  • Caloric limits start to teach portion control.
  • Whole grains and more fruits and vegetables emphasize good eating habits.
  • Lower fat options are in keeping with recommendations for lowering cholesterol and decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cons of the Proposed Changes

  • Although schools are required to make larger portions of fruits and vegetables available, they are not required to serve the larger portions to the children. That is, the children must come back for more. And of course there's no guarantee that the kids are going to eat the fruits and vegetables that they're initially served.
  • Some argue that limiting the calories served to impoverished children--those whose main source of food is through their school lunch (and breakfast) programs--will harm them.
  • Lawmakers allowed pizza and French fries to stay on the menu. Yep, you read that correctly--ah, the joys of politics. Interest groups for the potato and lobbyists for the food industry made sure that these two perennial favorites stayed on as options--so much for putting the health of our children before all else. 

I am all for changes in the lunch program to make school lunches healthier, and we shall see if these new rules influence child obesity rates. But for now, if you can afford it, sending a lunch with your child might still be the easiest way to control what they are eating.

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