USDA Implement Ground-breaking School Meal Reforms

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26 Jan 2012 --- Michelle Obama: "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."

Jan 26 2012 --- First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for kids across the nation. The new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. The healthier meal requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let's Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," said First Lady Michelle Obama. "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."

"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," said Vilsack. "When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal."

The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home. The proposals include: ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods; offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties; limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine —a gold standard for evidence-based health analysis. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the Federal government's benchmark for nutrition – and aimed to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home, such as making sure that kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains, and portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight.

USDA received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments on its proposed – and made modifications to the proposed rule where appropriate. USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said: "We know that robust public input is essential to developing successful standards and the final standards took a number of suggestions from stakeholders, school food service professions and parents to make important operational changes while maintaining nutritional integrity."

The new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion over the next five years -- less than half of the estimated cost of the proposed rule and are just one of five major components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, now implemented or under development, that will work together to reform school nutrition.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are strongly in favor of the new measures "Given the realities of federal, state and local budgets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is committed to leading the creative collaborations that will be needed to implement changes in school food programs," said registered dietitian and Academy President Sylvia A. Escott-Stump.

"Children deserve our best efforts to provide them with good nutrition, and school nutrition directors across the country—many of whom are registered dietitians and Academy members—are already serving healthy, delicious meals to our children. The meal standards announced today will support their ongoing efforts and ensure continuous improvement in the meals they are served," Escott-Stump said.

Although health groups praise the new standards, food industry lobbyists got Congress to prevent USDA from limiting French fries and ensure that pizza counts as a serving of vegetables due to its tomato paste.

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