As kids head back to school this fall, the USDA's new guidelines for healthy school lunches are taking effect for the first time. As for the first major change to school food programs in 15 years, school food workers are busy developing strategies to implement the new requirements.
The guidelines, which limit calorie and sodium content while increasing fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, are certainly welcome news for many parents and advocates who have been calling for improvements to school lunch programs. However, due to successful lobbying efforts from major food producers, the new standards are still markedly far from what many people consider health promoting since French fries and pizza will both continue to count as vegetables.
Furthermore, the federal funding provided to support the new guidelines is a mere 6 cent increase, from $2.72 to $2.78, per meal, which might leave some schools dipping into the classroom budget to support the changes.
While few people would argue that any step in the direction of improving nutritional standards in schools is long overdue, the new regulations still fall short of addressing the real problem of unhealthy food in schools. The real issues remain the lack of healthy habits formed at a young age, poor performance in the classroom, and a growing epidemic of diabetes and obesity – not to mention the healthcare costs children will accrue in the future as unhealthy adults.
So what can you do to help?
Follow the lead of some inspiring IIN graduates who are working to change school lunches starting in their very own communities. Amy Kalafa, Class of 2004, is the mastermind behind the Two Angry Moms movement and published the book Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health. Attend a free screening of the Two Angry Moms movie or host your own event to start taking action in your community today.
You can also get involved with graduate Nancy Easton, Class of 2009, who co-founded Wellness in the Schools, a non-profit organization that offers hands-on food and fitness programs in public schools. Check out how you can bring Wellness in the Schools to your community!
In the meantime, you can also start with your own family:
Have you had success fighting for healthier school lunches?