In the United States. many children receive up to one-half their daily calories from meals served at school. Everyday, millions of children get free or low-cost food through the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program.
To be reimbursed from the federal government, school meals must meet specific nutritional standards. Currently those standards are rather loose, allowing questionable quality meals for our young people. They certainly deserve much better!
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to evaluate current policies and to make recommendations for improvements. This report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children is now available. The IOM deserves commendation for the following important changes:
- Fruits and vegetables: The variety and amount of fruits and vegetables must be increased. Half of daily vegetables must be orange or green leafy vegetables or legumes. To be reimbursable, a meal must include a fruit for breakfast and either a fruit or vegetable for lunch. By the way, juice can only be counted as half the fruit!
- Grains: At least half of grains and breads must be whole-grain to qualify for reimbursement.
- Sodium: Currently, the sodium content of school meals is approximately 1600 mg. The new recommendation calls for this to be lowered incrementally over the next ten years to no more than 740 mg per meal.
- Fat: While the upper limit of fat has been increased from 30% to 35% of calories, the focus must be on reducing saturated fat to no more than 10% or less of total calories. Trans fats must be eliminated, and fat-free or 1% fat milk now qualifies for reimbursement.
- Calories: Presently the standards have only minimum calorie requirements per meal. Now, maximum calorie levels will added to help fight the growing epidemic of obesity. These maximums are as follows:
- Grades K-5: 500 calories for breakfast, 650 calories for lunch.
- Grades 6-8: 550 calories for breakfast, 700 calories for lunch.
- Grades 9-12: 600 calories for breakfast, 700 calories for lunch.
Please encourage your representatives to adopt these new guidelines with haste. They are big steps forward to providing healthy building blocks for our children. Perhaps we are finally coming back to the original diet prescribed in Scripture: “Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.” (Genesis 1:29) Do you agree?