Newswise — CHICAGO – Significant improvements in school meals designed to improve the health of 32 million schoolchildren are taking place nationwide thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by the First Lady Michelle Obama and implemented through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During Kids Eat Right Month this August, as children head back to the classroom, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says more school meal changes are in store.
“Parents can trust that when they send their kids to school, they will have access to healthy, nutritious food – more fruits and vegetables, whole grain-rich foods, and less salt, sugar and fat,” says registered dietitian and Academy Spokesperson Wesley Delbridge.
“Healthier meals help ensure kids are getting the nutrients they need to perform well in school and have energy to be active and participate in sports, and to also grow into healthy adults,” says Delbridge. “These changes can result in a lifetime of health benefits, including reduced risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”
Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the changes to school meals include:
• More fruits and vegetables. Lunches offer more fruit and vegetables, and breakfast will increase the amount of fruit offered to students. “Fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients and most are low in calories, making them a great option for growing kids,” Delbridge says.
• Less fat. Schools now only offer low-fat or fat-free milk, which contain all of the nutrients with less fat than whole milk. Meals also include foods that are lower in saturated fat, such as skinless poultry, lean meat and heart-smart vegetables oils. In addition, trans fats is limited to zero grams per serving.
• Whole grain-rich foods. All grain-based foods like breads and muffins will now be whole grain-rich, ensuring they contain at least half whole wheat or whole grains. “This is great news,” Delbridge says. “Whole grains take longer to digest, fueling kids throughout the school day.” Whole grains also contain important nutrients like B vitamins, selenium and magnesium.
• Healthier sodium amounts. Over the next 10 years, schools will be required to slowly reduce sodium by 25 percent to 50 percent. “Prior to the recent changes, some school lunches contained more than 1,400 milligrams of sodium – that’s 60 percent of what most children should be eating all day.”
Many schools have implemented a Farm to School program, supporting their efforts to serve more fruits and vegetables. Currently, 44 percent of schools are bringing foods from local farms, with produce being the most frequently purchased.
Delbridge, who is the director of food and nutrition at Chandler Unified School District in Chandler, Ariz., says these programs are exposing children to new foods at his school that they enjoy.
“Research shows that eating behaviors are established early in life, so we’re really setting ourselves up for a healthier generation of Americans,” Delbridge says. “If we want to solve national concerns of obesity and overweight, especially for our children, we need to begin at school, but our work doesn’t end there.”
In August, Kids Eat Right Month, a joint initiative of the Academy and its Foundation, focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and families, featuring expert advice from registered dietitian nutritionists. “As Kids Eat Right campaign members, thousands of RDNs are teaching families how to shop smart, cook healthfully and eat right,” Delbridge says.
The Kids Eat Right initiative features an interactive website, www.KidsEatRight.org, providing science-based health and nutrition articles, recipes, videos and tips to help parents and families.
For more information about healthful eating at school and beyond and Kids Eat Right Month, visit www.KidsEatRight.org.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation is a 501(c)3 charity devoted exclusively to nutrition and dietetics. It funds scholarships and awards, public awareness and research projects and the Academy strategic initiatives, and is the largest provider of scholarships and awards in the field of dietetics. The Foundation’s mission is advancing public health and nutrition utilizing the expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists. Visit the Academy Foundation at www.eatright.org/foundation.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy at www.eatright.org.