School meals legislation has made right impact on menus, blogger says

WASHINGTON — Roughly 30 million students get their lunches at school, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and for some lower-income students, nearly all of their meals come from there.

Those meals have evolved since 2010 with the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act, which aligned menus with national dietary guidelines. The legislation was intended not only to improve meal quality but also to cut the risk of childhood obesity. The act also increased the amount spent on each child — about 6 cents per meal.

More than 90 percent of schools now meet the updated nutrition standards, said Lean Plate Club™ blogger Sally Squires, making the 500 billion lunches served each year healthier overall.

“Kids are eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” she told WTOP’s Debra Feinstein and Mark Lewis. “They’re getting more lean protein and low-fat dairy as well as foods that have less added sugars and unhealthy fat and sodium.”

A Harvard University study showed that kids now eat 16 percent more vegetables at lunch and 23 percent more fruit, Squires said.

That’s all well and good, but have the changes lessened interest? Healthy doesn’t always equal delicious, after all.

Despite some reports and other anecdotes, Squires said the National school Lunch Program remains popular: Food waste, a study found, has actually not increased. Participation, however, has increased, Squires said, and school lunch revenue is actually up (by $200 million). And only 0.15 percent of schools have dropped out of what is the nation’s second-largest food program.

“That really speaks to the fact that this has been improved and kids are eating the food,” she said. “We’re also seeing participation up in some really major school districts, like Los Angeles, Dallas and Florida.

“The bottom line is that all these changes have really added up, and they seem to be working.”

Healthier school lunches (Lean Plate Club™ blogger Sally Squires)

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