Why School Lunch Matters
A good breakfast ensures kids get the good start they need — but will they continue to receive nourishing food options throughout the school day?
American kids get between 30 percent and 50 percent of their daily calories in the school cafeteria, but for many of us, what actually goes on the tray is still a mystery. The good news is: school menus are getting a makeover, including more colorful fruits and veggies, nutritious milk choices (including fat free chocolate milk), and extra whole grains.
Schools are really looking at how to ensure foods are nourishing, but also appealing to kids. It’s a challenge, but one that schools across the nation are embracing.
So, what do the new USDA school meal guidelines mean?
- More colorful fruits and vegetables. Both fruits and vegetables must be served every day of the week, and there is now a weekly requirement for specific colors of vegetables. Previously schools only had to offer either fruit or vegetables.
- Whole grains will be required. While encouraged in the past, schools now must offer whole grain-rich foods.
- Schools are paying attention to portions. Calorie limits will be enforced based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size. New menus will also be increasingly focused on reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
- Emphasis on nutrient-rich milk. Along with lowfat and fat free white milk, now all the chocolate milk served for school lunch will be fat free. While the school lunch menu has only recently changed, school chocolate milk has been undergoing changes for the past five years. The nation’s milk processors have been hard at work to lower the calories and sugar in school flavored milk, while continuing to deliver a nutritious and delicious drink kids love. School flavored milk now has an average of 132 calories.
In fact, according to the experts, milk at school is an important way to ensure kids get nutrients they need. “Kids simply drink more milk when flavored milk is available. It’s equally important that school meals are appealing, as they are nutritious,” says Keith Ayoob, Ed.D., RD, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Flavored or not, milk is still the most nutrient-packed beverage kids can drink. It gives them needed calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, but six other nutrients, too.”