New meal requirements will be updated with stricter sodium, fat and sugar limits for the first time in over 15 years in effect for school lunches and breakfasts. Due to Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act East and schools nationwide will have to comply with the new standards taking effect July 1 of this year.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made the standards from a set of recommendations the Institute of Medicine Panel created. The guidelines were last updated in 2010 from the old dietary standards, Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These new standards are different because they limit unhealthy content in foods for public schools.
The past and present standards both emphasize the importance of whole grain in one’s diet. Along with offering only whole-grain rich wheat food, requirements include offering fat-free or low-fat, as well. The new meal standards also include servings of fruit and vegetables to be offered daily with school lunches.
“Sometimes [in the past] we would laugh because catsup was considered a vegetable at one point,” Assistant Principal Jeff Storey said.
In addition to including fruit and vegetable servings, the new standards will also result in more funding for lunches. For the first time in 30 years, meal funding provided for school lunches will go up six cents per school meal. According to the USDA website, this raise will be tied schools’ performances in serving improved meals, in an effort to encourage serving healthy meals.
The Hunger Free Kids Act also calls for portion sizes to be determined by age rather than all children being served the same amount of food. This is to ensure correct amounts of food are being given to children with different caloric requirements.
According to cafeteria manager Linda Bricker, the most impactful part of the standards at the school will be the reduction of trans fats, saturated fats and sodium allowed in items sold.
The restrictions for fat, sugar and sodium will affect mostly what is considered à la carte snack items. USDA restrictions are already placed on main entrée items so the restrictions will mostly affect fries, pizza and chicken tenders at East.
“They are actually going to try to get our pizza as a main item so that anybody can get it and it will just be sold up [in the front line],” Bricker said.
It is currently unknown if the pizza will be allowed to be sold as a main entrée or will be eliminated completely.
Bricker is currently unsure which specific items will be replaced next year, but if items such as chips currently sold do not follow the restrictions, a replacement item may be found to be sold instead. This could be as simple as swapping out chips for a lower-calorie option with less salt.
This with affect food options for students to buy during lunch.
“This would affect what I eat at lunch because every time that I forget my lunch, which is quite often, I order pizza because it is yummy and hot,” sophomore Bea Workman said.
Along with meal standards going up in the cafeteria, improvements will have to be made to food sold outside the lunch lines in vending machines. All food sold in schools will have to contribute to what the USDA considers a healthy diet. The guidelines with fat and sodium limits will be in effect until around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. during the school day. After-school events like football games will not be affected.
The new standards will be gradually phased into food sold in the cafeteria. This will allow schools to make key changes gradually. They will start in 2014 and be complete in 2016.