FROM THE GRIO — This year, students’ lunch trays have a new look. Their plates are filled with fresh fruits, colorful crisp vegetables, beans, hearty whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthier versions of their all time favorites — pizza, cheese and flavored milk.
In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services released new nutrition standards for school meals. These long awaited changes — the first update to the National School Lunch Program in fifteen years — went into effect July 1.
The new nutrition standards are designed to combat childhood obesity, nutrition deficits and hunger. This is especially good news for black children.
Over 25 percent of African-American children in the United States are overweight or obese. Yet, they still aren’t meeting the recommended servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains or dairy. As a result, their intake of key nutrients essential to help children stay healthy is at suboptimal levels.
On the other hand, in 2010, nearly one-third of African American households with children faced food insecurity. Those children suffer nutrition deficits because they don’t get enough to eat.
Schools are in a unique position to impact children’s nutritional well being. That’s especially true for African-American children, who participate in school lunch programs at higher rates than children of other races. For them, the quality of school meals is critical in curbing childhood obesity and hunger.
New Lunch Menus
Under the new nutrition standards, school lunches will help close nutrient gaps by providing one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories.
To further address that obesity issue — and associated chronic diseases that are cropping up among children at younger ages — school lunches will now have no more than 30 percent of calories come from fat, less than 10 percent from saturated fat, and have zero grams of trans fat.
The new school lunches will be more nutrient dense. They must have at least one-half cup to one cup fruit, three-fourths cup to one cup vegetables — with a weekly requirement of dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and other vegetables — one to two ounces whole grains, one to two ounces of meat or meat alternates and eights ounces of low-fat or fat-free white milk or flavored milk. The larger portions are minimum daily servings for students in grades 9-12.
So how does that translate to the lunch tray? Compare a typical elementary school lunch menu before and after the changes: