Healthy Kids' Lunches

Are the New School Lunch Standards Making a Difference?

Midway through the school year, experts give cafeterias a report card

School Lunch Menus Get a Makeover

Are the New School Lunch Standards Making a Difference? // school-lunch-kid-with-tray © Corbis Images

Image: Corbis Images
Remember when the USDA tried to pass off ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches? Those days long gone thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Implemented at the start of the 2012-2013 school year, this legislation requires cafeterias to serve children veggie-heavy meals with no trans fats and a cap on the amount of grains and proteins that may be dished up weekly (get the full details here). “School meal standards had not been revised in over 20 years, so it was time to bring them in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” says Rochester, NY-based dietitian Deborah Beauvais, RD, SNS, president of the New York School Nutrition Association. At schools nationwide, many products and recipes had to be reworked to meet the new low-calorie food guidelines.

Related: Healthy kids' snacks you'll love too
   
While the motivations are good, the program has had a few unintended consequences. Students and teachers at one Kansas high school produced a YouTube video parody called “We Are Hungry” in protest of their newly trimmed lunches, while kids in Wisconsin boycotted their cafeteria over the changes. “School nutrition professionals around the country are doing marvelous things to work within these tight regulations, but I think that reviewing and re-evaluating their effectiveness is warranted to do the best by the kids we serve,” Beauvis says.   

With school year about halfway through, we asked Beauvais and Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, a nutrition professor at Boston University, to weigh in on the greatest successes of the program—and what still needs improvement.

Related: Make better food choices for your family with the help of Eat This, Not That! 2013

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