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U.S. Pushes School Cafeterias Toward Healthier Offerings
Date:5/13/2011

n said. "It's going to be a challenge for the school districts to make these changes, but the USDA definitely seems to be doing things to try to make it manageable."

The USDA rules call for:

  • Establishing calorie maximums and minimums in school meals, set according to age ranges.
  • Reducing sodium in meals during the next decade.
  • Serving just one cup a week of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, green peas and corn.
  • Increasing fruits and vegetables served to kids.
  • Using products that are free of trans fats.
  • Providing only unflavored 1 percent milk or skim milk that is either flavored or unflavored.
  • Dramatically increasing the amount of whole grains in school meals.

Many of these standards come in areas that have had little or no federal regulation in the past, said Leah Schmidt, director of food and nutrition for the Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Mo., and vice-president elect of the School Nutrition Association. But some schools had already jumped on the issue.

"It wasn't a real surprise to us," Schmidt said. "Many of the school districts participating in the national school lunch program already are working on the changes that are now official in the legislation."

For example, many schools already had weaned students off whole milk and now serve only 1 percent or skim milk. School nutritionists also have been working on adding more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to their menus, and reducing the amount of sodium in the foods they serve.

"We've already seen a lot of products that have been reformulated, bringing down the sodium content in them," Schmidt said. "This is not an unexpected thing for us."

The new federal law and the USDA rules do add one important thing: They bring order and unity to a healthy school meals movement that had been progressing in piecemeal fashion, said Marcia Smith, nutrition director for the Polk County Publi
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