New School Lunch Standards have been served… Finally!!!

Yup, you heard right… The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is overhauling its nutritional guidelines for school meals and serving up some new healthier guidelines. First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and celebrity chef Rachel Ray recently announced the new guidelines during a visit at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandra, Virginia. Earth Day Network was eagerly anticipating this announcement, and we couldn’t be more excited for the 30 million plus schoolchildren that will benefit as a result.

This is the first time that these standards have been updated in over 15 years. The revised guidelines will require school districts to double the amount of fruits and vegetables that are served in school cafeterias. For the next two school years, whole-grain products must account for half of the grain products served, and by the 2014-2015 school year, all grain products must be whole grained. Milk, in order to reduce the amount of saturated fat consumed by children, must be low fat and fat free starting at the beginning of the next school year. Flavored milk will only be allowed if it is nonfat. Lastly, for the first time, the USDA is also setting calorie limits on school cafeteria meals. A lunch for students in kindergarten through fifth grade must now contain no more than 650 calories on average. This limit goes up to 700 calories for grades six through eight, and to 850 calories for grades nine through twelve.

School breakfasts are also seeing a drastic change. The USDA has eliminated the requirement that at least one ounce of meat or meat equivalent be served with school breakfast. This elimination of meat will save over $3 billion dollars and essentially pay for the multitude of changes themselves. Whoever said there wasn’t anything called a “healthy” savings was clearly wrong.

These new nutritional standards are being touted by Mark Bittman of the New York Times and others as the greatest healthy foods accomplishment in decades. And rightfully so! School meals are critical in helping remedy nutritional shortfalls and addressing the nation’s childhood obesity and child hunger problems. It simply makes sense that we give our nation’s schoolchildren the most nutritious and healthy meals possible, and Earth Day Network is proud to be a leader of this healthy schools movement!!!