WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Wednesday new, healthier standards for school menus, marking the first overhaul of school meal standards in 15 years.
The new standards will double the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables offered to students each week. The standards will also substantially increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods, limit total calories and portion sizes based on the ages of children being served, increase the focus on reducing saturated fats, trans fats and sodium, and offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties to accompany lunch.
“Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a press conference announcing the changes. “When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future — today we take an important step towards that goal.”
The changes will be phased in over a three-year period, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. Most schools will focus on changes to their lunch programs during the first year, and implement changes to their breakfast programs during the following two years.
Nutrition and produce industry groups, such as the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Hockessin, Del., voiced immediate support for the changes.
“PBH is extremely pleased with the new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines aimed at helping schools to provide the healthiest and most nutritious lunches possible,” Elizabeth Pivonka, president and chief executive officer of PBH, said in a release. “The new guidelines are a perfect complement and support mechanism to the recommendation to make half the plate fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen, canned, dried or 100% fruit or vegetable juice.”