As another school year begins there has been increased media attention on school lunches and how some people are not happy with them. The revised nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which began last year, include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables while reducing the sodium and empty calories in meals for our youth. There are a lot of anecdotal stories which say that kids don’t like the new meals and are going hungry because of them. Recent AP articles misquoted a survey from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) saying that “One percent of 521 district nutrition directors surveyed over the summer planned to drop out of the [NSLP] in the 2013-14 school year and about 3 percent were considering the move.” The SNA posted a clarification statement on their website explaining that this 1% was possible school buildings and not entire districts. The vast majority of school districts across the country do participate in the NSLP and are making it work.
While the lunch trays may look different, they are more nutritious and there is not a big difference in calories per meal. There have been reports of student athletes complaining that meals are too small, however 850 calories for one lunch is an appropriate portion size for students. It is not expected that a lunch will last them through the rest of the day and athletes need nutritious snacks before practice. The USDA is currently revising the guidelines for snacks and beverages sold in schools to make them healthier as well.
Schools that are embracing the new meal standards and getting kids excited about eating healthier seem to have an easier adjustment to these changes. These schools are educating students about the importance of eating healthy foods and are including them in the process through taste tests and surveys of what healthy options they like best. Adults are serving as role models and encouraging parents to continue promoting healthy eating at home. Healthy eating can lead to better learners in the classroom.
You can find a list of examples of schools that have been successful implementing the new nutrition guidelines on the USDA website.
Kari Shanahan, MS Ed