Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Remember the school lunches so many of us grew up on? Perhaps it was a lukewarm hamburger patty thrown on a white bun with a side of mystery vegetables. If you were lucky, greasy pizza with cold french fries. Beginning in July 2013, however, all schools will be required to offer a more nutritious array of foods for students. The general guidelines include:
■ Fruit and vegetable options every day, with specific varieties per week
■ More whole-grain options, eventually offering only whole grains
■ Fat-free or low-fat milk options
■ Calorie limitations based on the child’s age
■ Increased focus on reducing saturated fats, trans fats and sodium
For a complete list of improvements with comparison to the current lunch standards, visit www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/comparison.pdf.
These new requirements were developed from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This monumental announcement marks the first time in a generation that the nutritional value of breakfast and lunch in schools has been improved. The changes are designed to improve the health of nearly 32 million children who eat a school lunch every day and almost 11 million who eat breakfast at school every day. Overall, kids consume about 30 percent to 50 percent of their calories while at school. Studies show that eating a healthy breakfast and lunch is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism and improved mood.
The current cost estimate for implementation of these new standards is $3.2 billion annually. Although these upgraded requirements are going to have a hefty price tag, it is pennies compared to the annual cost of obesity-related medical issues in America — approximately $147 billion in 2008. Investing in necessary improvements for our children’s lunches will help drive this number down.
Fortunately, Routt County’s school districts have taken steps to vastly improve the meal programs for our children during the past few years and already meet many of the new standards. All students in Routt County have access to salad bars with fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Local food service directors have increased whole grains, decreased processed foods, increased scratch-prepared foods with less fat, sugar, and sodium — and the lunches are yummy!
While these standards represent an excellent step forward in setting our children up for success, it is important to recognize that these standards are only a piece of the wellness puzzle. At LiveWell Northwest Colorado, we want to improve the health of our whole community, which requires everyone to make adjustments at every meal, every day.
All the schools (and you) can do is offer the food, but it is the child’s responsibility to eat it. Let’s help make sure that happens. First and foremost, be a good example. Make sure you are getting at least five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Why should your kids/students/friends eat healthy if you don’t? We have a number of excellent resources to help you determine healthy serving sizes, tools to help you plan meals and fun ways to incorporate and introduce new foods to your kids.
Join LiveWell and take the Focus on 5 Challenge. Incorporate our fruit and veggie of the month into your daily or weekly menu. Challenge your friends, family members and co-workers to do the same. Take a step today and improve the way you and your family are eating. For more information, contact me at 970-819-4110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LiveWell Northwest Colorado community coordinator