School lunches may look entirely different from last year, says Scottsdale registered dietician Michelle Dudash, RD. “There will be more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and flavored milk will be lower in sugar and calories than ever before.”
Dudash, author of the soon to be published Clean Eating for Busy Families, offers an overview of what’s new:
A rainbow of fruits and veggies
Fruits are now a separate required component of the daily lunch program- they are not lumped in the same group with veggies, meaning kids will see more fruits and vegetables on their plates.
New guidelines break down vegetable sub groups in to color, says Dudash, which is quite a departure from the days when potatoes in various forms were served frequently. Dark green, red/orange, or yellow veggies will appear on a regular basis according to the guidelines during the week. “More colors mean more nutrients,” she adds.
More whole grains
At least half of grains offered during the school lunch week must be whole grain-rich. That means they must be made with at least 50 percent whole grains.
Fewer calories and sugars in flavored milk
The average number of calories in flavored milk served at school has declined by more than 21% over the past five years. Sugars have been cut dramatically, too- by around 40%. Kids are more inclined to actually drink chocolate or other flavored milks, says Dudash, and the nutritional benefits far outweigh the small amounts of additional sugar.
New sodium restrictions set by the federal government are mandated for 2014. However, Arizona already has had some sodium restrictions in place dating back to around 2006. Some Arizona schools are already working toward reaching the 2014 goal, but they must wait as manufacturers of items such as canned vegetables begin making ingredient changes to the products themselves.
New trans-fat restrictions
Nutrition label or manufacturer’s specifications for foods served in school lunches must specify zero grams of trans fat per serving (less than 0.5 gram per serving).
And to make sure kids are not getting more food than they need, a minimum/maximum range for calorie requirement for kids in Kindergarten through fifth grade, for sixth through eighth graders, and for high school students has been established for schools to follow.