Healthy Changes for School Lunches

We sat down with Nancy Rice, president of the School Nutrition Association, to chat about kids' school lunches and what can be done to make them healthier.


Courtesy of School Nutrition Association

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Editor's note: The following questions were asked by the MyRecipes staff and answered by School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, M.Ed., RD, LD, SNS.

What is the function of the School Nutrition Association?
School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a non-profit, professional organization representing school nutrition professionals from all 50 states. Our mission is to advance good nutrition for all children, so SNA was a strong voice in support of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, enacted in December 2010.

Can you explain the highlights of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? What changes will come from this bill?
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will update federal nutrition standards for school meals, requiring more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (and less sodium and calories) in every meal. Schools will receive 6 cents more per school lunch to meet these standards. The new law will also ban junk food from school vending machines and snack bars, and ensure more children from food-insecure homes can benefit from healthy school meals.

Parents want to know: Why is so much processed and breaded food served in school lunches? Why aren’t there more fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu?
Research shows schools nationwide are serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy items. While some schools are scratch-preparing foods, others struggle to cover the high labor, equipment, and staff training costs associated with scratch-prep. However, thanks to federal nutrition standards which limit fat, saturated fat, and portion size in school meals, most pre-prepared school foods are healthier than many of the processed foods you’ll find in the grocery store.

What improvements are being made to school lunches to make them healthier?
Schools have worked hard to make kid favorites healthy options by switching preparation methods (baking vs. frying) and using healthier ingredients (leaner meats, whole grains). These days, school pizza is often served on whole-grain crust with low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce. You’ll also find baked sweet potato “fries” or wedges, brown rice, vegetarian choices, and salads. Schools are also launching nutrition education programs to encourage kids to try these healthier foods.

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