USDA sets new regulations for school lunches

Published 10:35 am Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A kindergarten class at Potter Street Elementary School eats lunch.


News Intern

Nutrition standards in schools are changing for the first time in over 15 years with the new regulations introduced Wednesday, Jan. 25, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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The new standards include the introduction of healthier foods for children in schools and will be allowed to phase in over the next three years starting in 2012-2013 school year, according to the USDA. Some of these changes include: offering both fruits and vegetables everyday, increased offering of whole grain-rich foods, fat-free or low-fat milk varieties, limiting the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

“We won’t have to make significant changes, as we have already been in the process of implementing a lot of the healthy choices for about the past five years,” said Debbie Purcell, Decatur County School Nutrition Director.

Some of the changes that have already been implemented are the integration of over-51-percent whole grain in all of the bread products, like hotdog and hamburger buns, and serving only 1-percent or fat-free milk.

Purcell said that the Decatur County Schools are also in the process of developing a way to introduce foods like brown rice by mixing it in with white rice — a way that will help kids become more receptive to some of the healthier foods.

“When we’re making these changes, we want to serve healthier meals because we feel like children need to be healthy to learn and be successful in school,” Purcell said. “But they aren’t always received well by the students. What we have tried to do in the past is find things students like to eat like the chicken nuggets, french fries or pizza, and look for the healthiest alternative out there.”

Zac Haire and Maryann Hester, second graders, at Potter Street Elementary School.

For example, the pizza served now has reduced-fat cheese and reduced-fat pepperoni, according to Purcell.

Purcell said the school nutrition program is also working with an organization called “Farm to School,” where school officials work with produce partners to get seasonal fresh vegetables from local farms.

According to the USDA, the new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years and are one part of the five components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.

Purcell also said that she hopes that the new standards will help to lower the obesity rates in children.

“It has to be a partnership,” Purcell said. “Children eat food that’s not just school food … it’s not one particular thing; everybody has to work together to reduce that childhood obesity.”