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USDA Releases New Nutrition Plans For School Meals

Move over, tater tots. The USDA released its new set of guidelines for school meals, and overall it favors whole foods.


Photo: Kirako (flickr)

Hello, Jicama! Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, school lunches are getting healthier.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s First Legislation

As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act signed into law on December 13th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released new guidelines that will set the standard for school meals.

With nearly 32 million kids participating in the school meal program every week day, new school food menus will have a large impact on the overall health of school children.

More Wholefoods

The changes include adding more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk to the lunchroom as according to a lengthy list of standards detailing the number and size of servings. The USDA used the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) 2009 report, “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” to determine nutrition guidelines.

The USDA’s plan includes a before-and-after graph of how the school meal system might change. For example:

Monday Lunch, Before:

  • Bean and cheese burrito (5.3 oz)
  • with mozzarella cheese (1 oz)
  • Applesauce (1/4 cup)
  • Orange Juice (4 oz)
  • 2% Milk (8 oz)

Monday Lunch, After:

  • Submarine sandwich (1 oz turkey, 0.5 oz low-fat cheese) on whole wheat roll
  • Refried Beans (1/2 cup)
  • Jicama (1/4 cup)
  • Green pepper strips (1/4 cup)
  • Cantaloupe wedges, raw (1/2 cup)
  • Skim Milk (8 oz)
  • Mustard (9 grams)
  • Reduced fat mayonnaise (1 oz)
  • Low Fat Ranch Dip (1 oz)

Not Enough?

Marion Nestle of Food Politics has some reservations, though. While she applauds the inclusion of real foods (even jicama!) into the school lunches, she points out that there are several parts of the new plan that fall short of truly challenging the obesity epidemic.

For instance, she says that sugary foods and drinks like flavored milks are still allowed in lunchrooms. Also, she has reservations about the nutrient-based standards, because this number counting forces the chefs to create recipes with processed foods like reduced-fat mayonnaise.

However, overall she is positive. “This is a huge step forward and USDA deserves lots of support for doing this.”

The USDA is seeking feedback on the regulations. Comments can be posted at through April 13, 2011.

Read More:

  • USDA Unveils Critical Upgrades to Nutritional Standards for School Meals (USDA)
  • Federal Register Notice (USDA)
  • USDA proposes new standards for school meals (Food Politics)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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