Last month, the USDA unveiled their new strategy to improve child nutrition and combat childhood obesity with a set of new standards for school meals served to students across the country. These new requirements are intended to greatly improve the nutrition quality of meals served at schools.
Efforts to improve childhood nutrition have vastly increased through the initiative of First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! campaign. This campaign provided the momentum for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law by President Obama, the first real move forward in school cafeteria nutrition in over 15 years.
The new rules will double the current daily servings offered of fruits and vegetables, limit milk offerings to only fat-free or low-fat varieties, substantially increase the amount of whole grain-rich foods, adhere to proper portion sizes and caloric intake by age, and greatly reduce saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
Here at The Abbey, we like to think of ourselves as the leader of childhood nutrition in the state, considering we’ve been creating nutritional and locally focused menus for over 20,000 Vermont students on a daily basis. And though we’ve always had that focus, over the last several years we’ve really been concentrating on introducing healthier menu options and have been nationally recognized in some of our efforts. With that being said, many Vermont students may not notice any major changes to their school lunch program when these rules go into effect this July. Well over a hundred Vermont Schools are currently providing fresh fruits and vegetables as a part of the national Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and over 60% of Vermont schools have started Farm to School programs designed to encourage local purchases and increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs, all of which are well ahead of national averages.
On the subject, one of our very own Food Service Directors, Maureen O’Neil commented “I am excited about the new standards for the health and wellbeing of school children nationwide. But in our district, the change will not be very drastic since we have been implementing many of them already. And, the school children are loving the food. Whole grain breads and pasta are served daily, along with dark green leafy greens and big bowls of beautiful fresh fruit. All of our school children have already made the switch to 1% or skim milk.
For more information on these new mandates, please visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/nutritionstandards.htm.