Schools play a vital role in the health of young children. For example, more than 31 million children in the U.S. participate in the National School Lunch Program, according to research by the Pew organization. Now, some public school officials find themselves struggling to find a balance between serving meals that meet the health requirements of Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture and finding food that children will eat. Since making the switch to healthier meals, some school officials have even reported that they’ve seen more food being thrown into the trash than being consumed.
How the “Healthy School Lunch” Movement Started
In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act, which sought to provide funding and put policies in place for the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program, among others. For the first time in more than 30 years, the Act sought to start with a clean plate and rethink the school lunch food served to children.
Getting Back to the Basics
The new standards include replacing white rolls, biscuits, pizza crust, and tortillas with whole grain alternatives. Salt has also been on the chopping block, to comply with the mandate for schools to cap sodium at 640 milligrams per elementary school lunch and 740 milligrams per high school lunch by 2017. Another requirement that has received pushback: including one fruit and one vegetable with each meal.
The Road to Good Health
To meet the new lunch standards, 88% of school food authorities report having to purchase additional kitchen equipment. More than half also report needing a new kitchen infrastructure as a result of the switch.
Despite the resistance from some school officials and students, the USDA’s Janey Thornton, a former school nutrition director, believes that the issues will lessen as the food industry starts producing healthier foods.