School Lunch Makeover
For the first time in 15 years, the USDA has made significant changes to school meals in an effort to curb childhood obesity.
In January the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the final meal pattern regulations for school meals, as mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, called the announcement a “red-letter day for American children.” In the following pages, we break down what the new meal pattern means for school meals and hear from directors about how they plan to meet the new requirements.
The New Meal Pattern Regulations: What They Mean to You
Final rule calls for increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a reduction in sodium.
Food-based menu planning approach: Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, food-based menu planning will be required for the National School Lunch Program. Food-based menu planning does not need to be implemented for breakfast until the 2013-2014 school year. The USDA says more than 70% of program operators currently use a food-based menu planning approach.
Plan meals using the following age/grade groups, K-5, 6-8 and 9-12: This requirement begins SY 2012-2013 for lunches and SY 2013-2014 for breakfast. The rule allows schools to use one meal pattern for students in grades K-8, as food quantity requirements for those two groups overlap.
Increasing the amount of fruit: Fruits and vegetables are no longer one food component in the NSLP. For lunch, schools must offer at least 2½ cups of fruit per week and ½ cup per day of fruit for students in K-8. For students in 9-12, schools must offer at least 5 cups of fruit per week and one cup per day. This requirement begins SY 2012-2013.
For breakfast, schools must offer 1 cup of fruit per day and 5 cups per week for all ages. This begins SY 2014-2015.
Schools are allowed, however, to offer vegetables in place of all or part of the required fruit component for breakfast, beginning July 1, 2014, so long as the first 2 cups per week of any such substitution are from the dark green, red/orange, beans and peas (legumes) or other vegetable subgroups. Starchy vegetables, i.e., potatoes, may also be offered in substitution of fruits, but only after the requirement for non-starchy vegetables has been met. (See offer verses serve section for further information regarding fruit requirements.)
To meet the fruit component for both breakfast and lunch, the items must be fresh; canned in fruit juice, water or light syrup; frozen without added sugar; or dried. Whole fruit may be offered; however, no more than half of the per-meal fruit component may be juice.
Students must select a fruit or vegetable to make a reimbursable meal, starting SY 2012-2013 in NSLP. For breakfast, this is effective SY 2014-2015, which coincides with the increased fruit amount. Students are, however, allowed to take ½ cup of a fruit or vegetable, rather than the full component, to make a reimbursable meal under offer versus serve. Students are still allowed to decline up to two food components at lunch.
For breakfast, schools must offer fruit, milk and grains daily. When schools offer more than four items at breakfast, students may decline one.
Salad bars must meet new requirements under offer versus serve. If items on salad bars are not preportioned, staff must be trained to accurately judge the quantities of self-serve items to determine if the selection can count toward a reimbursable meal.