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.

Increasing vegetables: Schools must offer more vegetables to all students. For K-8, schools must offer at least 3¾ cups vegetables each week and ¾ cup per day. For 9-12, schools must offer 5 cups vegetables each week and 1 cup per day. Schools must offer vegetable subgroups—dark green, red/orange, beans and peas (legumes), starchy and other—during the course of the week at minimum requirements beginning SY 2012-2013. The following amounts are the new requirements for vegetable subgroups for lunches:

Dark Green: 1⁄2 cup (all ages)
Red/orange: 3⁄4 cup (K-8); 11⁄4 cup (9-12)
Beans/peas (legumes): 1⁄2 cup (all ages)
Starchy: 1⁄2 cup (all ages)
Other: 1⁄2 cup (K-8); 3⁄4 cup (9-12)

Beans and peas (legumes) can be credited toward the vegetable component. Green peas, green lima beans and green string beans are not considered part of this subgroup. Schools can serve fresh, frozen and canned vegetables.

Grains: For NSLP, in SY 2012-2013 and SY 2013-2014, whole grain-rich products must make up half of all grain products offered. During this time only, refined grain foods that are enriched may be included. Starting SY 2014-2015, schools must offer only whole grain-rich products. A whole grain-rich food must contain at least 51% whole grains and the remaining grain content must be enriched. Starting SY 2012-2013, schools must offer a weekly grains range. For K-5, schools must offer an 8- to 9-ounce equivalent per week and 1 ounce per day; 6-8, 8- to 10-ounce equivalent per week and 1 ounce per day; and 9-12, 10- to 12-ounce equivalent and 2 ounces per day.

For breakfast, weekly grain ranges and the half of whole grain-rich requirements begin July 1, 2013. All grains offered starting in SY 2014-2015 must be whole grain-rich. The weekly grain ranges are as follows: K-5 (7 to 10 ounces per week and 1 ounce per day); 6-8 (8 to 10 ounces per week and 1 ounce per day); and 9-12 (9 to 10 ounces per week and 1 ounce per day). Once schools meet the minimum daily grain quantity of 1 ounce, they are allowed to offer a meat/meat alternative in place of grains, which counts toward the weekly grains requirement. A 1-ounce equivalent of meat/meat alternative is equal to 1 ounce of grain. The final rule does not require a meat/meat alternative daily at breakfast.

Schools may count two grain-based desserts per week as part of the weekly grains requirement.

Meat/meat alternatives: Schools must offer a minimum amount of meat/meat alternative per day for NSLP beginning SY 2012-2013. For 9-12, that amount is a 2-ounce equivalent; for K-8, that amount is a 1-ounce equivalent. Schools also must serve a weekly requirement; K-5 (8 to 10 ounces per week and 1 ounce per day), 6-8 (9 to 10 ounces per week and 1 ounce per day) and 9-12 (10 to 12 ounces and 2 ounces per day).

Schools can offer commercially prepared tofu as a meat alternative. Mature beans and dry peas (kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans/chickpeas, black-eyed peas, split peas and lentils) may be counted as meat alternatives. However, those beans and peas may not count for both a meat alternative and vegetable in the same meal.

Fluid milk: Schools may only serve fat-free flavored milk and fat-free or low-fat non-flavored milk, starting SY 2012-2013. Fluid milk must be offered with every school meal; however, students may decline milk under offer verses serve.

Water must be available in the service area, but water may not be offered in place of fluid milk for a reimbursable meal. This rule does not affect the nutrition standards for optional non-dairy drinks offered to students with special dietary needs.