The federal government has unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation.
Announced by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than 15 years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day.
The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home, including:
- Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
- Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods
- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties
- Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size
- Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium
The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which Mrs. Obama supported as part of her Let's Move! campaign.
"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," she says. "The last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we have a right to expect that they won't be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables."
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) built the new rules around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans — the Federal government's benchmark for nutrition. The new nutrition standards will be phased in over a three-year period, starting in school year 2012-2013. For example, schools will be permitted to focus on changes in the lunches in the first year, with most changes in breakfast phased in during future years.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, representing the nation's dietitians, quickly endorsed the new standards.
NBC News video report of the new school meal standards