Photo Credit: Maens And James/FoodPix/Getty Images
It's official, and we're cheering: For the first time in more than a decade, new standards are being implemented that will make the school lunches served to our kids healthier and more nutritious.
Part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the new standards were unveiled today by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," the First Lady said in a statement. "And when we're putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won't be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables."
According to USDA, the new standards include:
-- Offering both fruits and vegetables every day of the week
-- More whole grain-rich foods
-- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk
-- Limiting calories (based on the age of children) to ensure proper portion size
-- An increased focus on reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium in foods.
"This is the most significant change in a generation," Secretary Vilsack said in a conference call before the official announcement. "And for the first time in thirty years the federal government will step up with additional reimbursements." (Schools will receive an extra 6 cents per meal to pay for the improvements.)
The new standards, which will begin to be implemented in the next school year, still aren't perfect: Starchy veggies like potatoes will stay on the tray (although the "fries" will likely be baked) and pizza will still count as a vegetable thanks to that miniscule amount of tomato sauce. But celebrity chef Rachael Ray, who joined Secretary Vilsack on the conference call, downplayed the significance of those examples.
"French fries and pizza [are] a distraction from the great strides that are being made here," she said. "We’re changing the game here. That tray -- period -- is going to have leafy greens, colorful fruit. If that tray happens to have pizza or French fries, that doesn’t negate the other great things on [it]." (You can view a sample menu here.)
As moms who care about the health of our own kids -- not to mention the one-third of kids across the country who are obese or overweight -- we say, amen to that. And thanks for the leafy greens.