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Are the New Rules for School Lunches Enough?

The first big change to school lunch nutrition standards was released last week. The goal is to provide healthier lunches for children at school, a major meal for many school age children. The change means more fruits and vegetables in school lunches, and smaller portion sizes. But are these changes enough?

There’s a lot good to be said for the changes. Schools can get six more cents per meal, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the first real increase in 30 years, and is tied to the school’s performance in providing better meals. Training and assistance is available to help schools comply. There is a focus on limiting saturated fats, trans fats and sodium. More whole grains are to be served.

The news on school lunches isn’t entirely good. It rarely is when you’re talking about something that goes through so political a process.

Tomato sauce on pizza still allows it to be counted as a vegetable, and there aren’t limits on how often potatoes can be served. On the plus side, baked or roasted potato servings will be encouraged, rather than french fries.

I’m sure this will have more impact at some schools than others. My kids’ school, for example, already has a salad and fruit bar option for the kids daily, and they go for local produce when possible. It’s a pretty nice deal, and something I’d love to see more schools offer. The only problem is that you get that or the hot lunch, and the hot lunch is more of a typical school lunch most days. On the plus side, pizza days include the salad bar with the pizza, so that one is popular and probably balances out better than many other school lunches… depending on the kid picking the lunch, of course.

As a parent, I think they key here is to make sure that your school makes the most of these new standards. If your school isn’t offering sufficiently healthy lunches, speak up and encourage change. There’s still a ways to go, both in making school lunches healthier and in teaching kids to eat better. The schools can’t do it alone. We parents have to do our part to encourage children to eat healthier foods and to be more active. It will take time and effort to get it right.