Extension supports new school meal standards

Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Students throughout South Dakota can expect to see healthier and more nutritious food on their trays this year, according to SDSU Extension.

Beginning this fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing additional funds to schools that meet the new healthy meal standards. This affects 32 million children nationally and approximately 100,570 students in South Dakota. This change is thanks to the national Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (Public Law 111-296) to improve the health of our nation’s children.

“Across our nation, schools are now better positioned to assist with combating the challenge of childhood obesity and improve children’s overall health,” said Ann Schwader, SDSU Extension Nutrition Field Specialist.

Schwader says that in South Dakota 17 percent of children ages two to 19 are considered overweight and 16.6 percent are considered obese.

“One reason youth are trending towards overweight and obesity is their lack of understanding of proper portions. Now, school meals are ‘right-sized’ based on their age, students are getting the right portions.”

and now they will be getting more of certain foods like fruits and vegetables,” she said.

There have been tremendous advancements in our understanding of what a healthy school meal should look like since the last time the standards were updated in 1995. The new guidelines align school meals with the latest nutrition science, based on recommendations of nutrition experts at the Institute of Medicine and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans nutrition recommendations. 

The new school meal standards ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods; offer fat-free or low-fat milk varieties; limit calories based on the age of children to ensure proper portion sizes; and increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans-fat and sodium.

The new school meal patterns meet specific calorie ranges for children in grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.  The new meal patterns split up the estimated daily calories and food groups required by three meals, including small snacks in between meals. The intention of the new school lunch guidelines is to ensure that almost all children receive at least one-third of their daily nutritional and energy needs. As an example, the USDA recommends that children, depending on age and sex, should get four-six ounces of protein foods over the course of a day, resulting in one-two ounces of protein foods per meal.

Data from the USDA shows that students have tended not to take all the food available to them in the cafeteria line. Understanding the amount of food that can be selected the first time through the cafeteria line can help ensure that active kids are getting maximum energy benefit from their meal. A well-balanced, nutritious lunch will provide: plenty of energy for the rest of the day, focused learning, nutrients needed to grow and teaching opportunities for healthy eating habits.

SDSU Extension recognizes schools are in a transition year and have provided support to statewide trainings that were held throughout South Dakota for school food service directors and staff earlier in the year. SDSU Nutrition Field Staff are available to educate communities, organizations and parents about the new standards. For additional information contact your Regional Extension Center. Contact information can be found at www.iGrow.org.

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