3 Ways the New USDA Guidelines Will Affect Your Child’s Lunch
By: Chef Ann Cooper
September 05, 2013
After a season of barbeque, farmer’s markets, and freshly-picked summer fruit, it’s hard to get back to thinking about school lunches. Whether your child brings her lunch or hops on the lunch line, soon many changes in school cafeterias will affect what she eats in school. Here are a few things to consider as you pack up the lunchbox and hand over pocket money for snacks.
- Despite the new USDA guidelines requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, schools may need help transitioning to healthier – and tastier – meals. Some meals, such as whole wheat pizza, may meet the letter of the law, but they might not be the best option for healthy grains and proteins.
- While the new USDA guidelines didn’t drastically change the amount of calories students consumed (the average high school meal was 857 calories before the new standards and the limit now is 850), where they were getting their calories from did. Unfortunately, while more calories were once from fruits and veggies, meaning smaller servings of protein and grain, schools can once again serve larger portions of foods such as nachos.
- This year, the USDA is tackling school snacks. According to the new “Smart Snacks in Schools” standards, vending, school store, and a la carte items will need to be:
- Less than 200 calories
- Low in fat, sodium and sugar
- A fruit, vegetable, protein, dairy, or whole grain
High schools can only sell sugary sodas and sports drinks up to 60 calories in less than 12-ounce servings. Elementary and middle schools can only sell water, low-fat milk, and 100% vegetable and fruit juices. Since drinks like diet sodas may be allowed based on this criteria, you may want to send your child to school with a better-for-you option like water or unsweetened iced tea.
What You Can Do
Despite USDA standards and district-wide decision-making, you can still help decide what your child eats, and you are the best advocate for what she is served when you are not around.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Pay attention to the school lunch menu, and let administrators know that you value the importance of fresh, whole and healthy ingredients. You can even suggest they visit The Lunch Box for recipes, menu planners, and other helpful tools.
- Talk to your child about what’s on her lunch tray and the type of foods that nourish her body. Pack healthy snacks for her to eat so she isn’t tempted to hit the vending machine.
- The new snack guidelines won’t take effect until next year at the earliest, so ask your school to get a jump on healthy school snacks by adopting the “Smart Snacks in Schools” guidelines now!
Chef Ann Cooper
Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancies than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children's health and wellness.