March 19—Schools across York County offer salad bars and whole grain bread at lunch. Dietitians lead nutrition lessons urging children to make “healthy choices.” Some schools even let students take a second trip through the lunch line for extra helpings of fruits and veggies.
Such efforts are promising, but nutrition advocates say menus dominated by processed, fast food fare undermine those noble attempts and leave school meals a long way from healthy.
New federal rules, which start taking effect this year, are meant to improve school food in the long run. They require schools to double the amount of fruits and vegetables served, increase whole grains, serve only low fat or fat-free milk and limit trans fats. By 2022, schools must cut the amount of sodium served in half.
Most York County schools are well on the way to meeting some of those rules, food service directors said. They serve fewer fried foods and offer more fruits and vegetables. Pizza crusts and burger buns are whole grain. Cheese and milk are low fat. Corn dogs are actually turkey dogs with “whole grain breading.”
Still many meals include processed, pre-packaged products resembling what’s typically served at drive-through windows – precisely the type of food health advocates urge children to steer clear of.