About The Buzz: New Recommendations for School Lunches

TheBUZZ: New recommendations for school lunches

The government is calling for dramatic changes in school meals, including limiting french fries, sodium, and calories, and offering more fruits and vegetables.


Overall, kids consume about 30% to 50% of their calories while at school. Buying lunch at school may be the first time kids get to call the shots on which foods they’ll eat.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 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 15 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.


New school nutrition recommendations passed under this Act in January 2012 …

    • Sodium. Reduce sodium in meals over the next 10 years. Through incremental changes, sodium should be lowered over the next decade to 740 milligrams or less for grades 9 through 12; 710 milligrams or less for grades 6 through 8; 640 milligrams or less for kindergarten through grade 5.
    • Calories. Establish calorie maximums and minimums for the first time. For lunch: 550 to 650 calories for kindergarten through grade 5; 600 to 700 for grades 6 through 8; 750 to 850 for grades 9 through 12.
    • Milk. Serve only unflavored, 1% unflavored, or fat-free flavored/unflavored milk.
    • Fruits & Vegetables. Increase the fruits and vegetables kids are offered. The new rule requires that a serving of fruit be offered daily at breakfast and lunch and two servings of vegetables be offered daily at lunch.
    • Whole Grains. Increase whole grains substantially. Half the grains should be whole grains!
    • Trans Fat. Require zero grams of trans fat per serving.


Use school lunches as a chance to steer your kids toward good choices! Especially with younger kids, explain how a nutritious lunch will give them energy to finish the rest of the school day and enjoy after-school activities.

How can you encourage healthy eating at school?

    • Look over the cafeteria menu together. Recommend items that are healthier, but be willing to allow them to splurge on less nutritious lunch items occasionally.
    • Sit down once a week and plan lunches together. If kids have a vested interest in their lunches, they’re more likely to eat it. Help them learn with the MyPlate guide!
    • Pack extras to share with friends. If you’re trying to get a picky eater to try something new, take advantage of the influence of their peers!

When packing lunches …

    • Celebrate special days. Plan lunch menus around a special event. For example, pack an all-red lunch in honor of Valentine’s Day or include a fortune cookie to celebrate Chinese New Year. See Our Special Menus
    • Try new foods. Send along exotic fruits like kiwi or star fruit and buy new foods that they are curious about. This will encourage an interest in trying new foods and may be helpful for picky eaters. Our fruit & veggie database has over 100 varieties!
    • Pack lunch together the night before. This way your child really has a role in preparing a healthy meal. Top 10 Ways to Get Kids Involved
    • Switch up the condiments. Instead of light mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup, add a healthy kick to any sandwich by using fresh salsa, pesto, or vinaigrette.
    • Make fruit fun. Skewer fresh fruit on Popsicle sticks or check out our Top 10 Fruit Snacks for Kids
    • Kids love dipping. Send along your child’s favorite condiment or dip for fruit, crackers, or veggies (low-fat dressing, applesauce, peanut butter). Read about ‘Dipping’ Research
    • Funky drinks. Some low-fat milks, 100% fruit juices, and even bottled waters come in funky shapes.

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