Where has summer gone? Back-to-school ads are airing, school supplies are stocked on store shelves and we’re back to the regular routine of school buses, homework, after-school activities and packing school lunches.
There are few parents who grew up in the United States and don’t have a memory of eating school lunches- good or bad. They are a uniquely American cultural experience. So whether your kid is a brown-bagger or a lunch buyer, you may be interested to know that the 2012-2013 school year will see changes in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. The passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 gave the US Department of Agriculture, which runs school meal programs, additional funds to deliver more nutrition to children through school meals.
The school cafeteria is an extension of the classroom and a place for students to put what they learn about healthy, active lifestyles into practice. Schools are a unique environment where students begin to make food and beverage choices on their own and set food preferences that last into adulthood. That is why they are a prime place to teach kids how to care for their bodies.
Updates to schools’ menus are based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and reinforce existing health initiatives.
Other changes to notice on the school lunch menu include:
- Both fruits and vegetables will be offered daily
- More whole grain food options
- Only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties will be offered
- Calorie limits will ensure age-appropriate, kid-sized portions are served
- Decreases in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium content
This is good news for parents, students and teachers. Research shows kids who eat balanced lunches are better prepared for classroom instruction and have fewer behavioral problems. Kids are also more likely to try (and like) new foods when they are eaten at the same time as their peers.
Parents should also stay tuned for similar changes to foods sold in school vending machines, school stores and snack lines, as these food options will also see a nutritional upgrade.
How will you encourage nutritious eating habits for your child this school year? Share in the comments below!
Melissa Musiker is a registered dietitian and member of APCO’s Washington, D.C., health policy team.