Understanding school lunches

June 27th, 2015 1:51 am

First Posted: 8/20/2013

Back to school is here once again and, with everyone busy buying new clothes and school supplies, the thought of school lunches may not be a number one concern. This year there have been many positive changes to boost your child’s nutrition at lunch to the National School Lunch Program. If you are not an enthusiast about making your child’s lunch, or if you simply like to have the school’s offered lunch as an option throughout the week, read on to see the new changes that will take place.

The changes put into effect for the 2013-14 school year affect all five food groups. The food groups are fruit, vegetable, grains, meat and or meat alternatives and milk. Schools are responsible for offering these five; however, students may turn down up to two groups, but must still take at least ½ cup of fruits or vegetables.

There are minimum amounts of each food group that must be offered to students, depending on the grade level. Daily requirements increase with age, for example with fruit, grades K-5 and grades 6-8 need to be offered one half cup and grades 9-12 one cup.

A daily serving of fruit can be either fresh, frozen without added sugar, canned in juice or light syrup or dried. No more than half of all fruit offerings may come from 100% fruit juice.

A daily serving of vegetables may be fresh, frozen or canned and throughout the week there must be a variety of dark green, red and orange, beans and peas and starchy vegetables available. As mentioned before, a student must take at least ½ cup of a fruit or vegetable every lunch.

Throughout the entire week, on average at least half of the grains offered at lunch must be whole grain-rich, which implies that they contain 50% whole grains.

For meat and meat alternatives, it is now acceptable to serve tofu and soy yogurt products.

At least two milk options must be offered at every lunch. These options may include fat-free milk (unflavored or flavored), low-fat milk (unflavored only) and fat-free or low-fat lactose-reduced varieties. Students who choose flavored milk to drink will only be drinking fat-free.

In addition to the food groups, changes have been made to dietary specifications, which include calories, fat and sodium. The average acceptable calorie ranges for lunch include: grades K-5 (550-650 calories), grades 6-8 (600-700 calories) and grades 9-12 (750-850 calories). Levels of saturated fat cannot exceed more than 10% of total calories. Trans fat has been reduced so that nutrition labels or manufacturers’ specifications must be 0g (or less than 0.5g) per serving. Lastly, schools will begin reducing sodium levels over the next 10 school years, and in 2014-15 sodium levels will be: grades K-5 (≤ 1230mg), grades 6-8 (≤ 1360mg) and grades 9-12 (≤ 1420mg).

The changes that have been made to the National School Lunch Program are designed to help our nation’s youth be healthier and meet the recommended daily requirements for food and nutrients. It is also important that we try to reinforce these ideas not only in school, but also at home, by offering healthy and nutritious food items from all five food groups at every meal.

Here is a recipe to help students boost their healthy fat consumption.

Apple tuna sandwiches

1 can tuna, packed in water

1 apple

¼ cup yogurt, (plain or low-fat vanilla)

1 tsp mustard

1 tsp honey (optional)

6 slices whole wheat bread

3 lettuce leaves

Wash and peel the apple. Chop it into small pieces. Drain the water from the can of tuna. Put the tuna, apple, yogurt, mustard and honey (optional) in a medium bowl. Stir Well. Spread ½ cup of the tuna mix onto 3 slices of bread. Top each sandwich with a washed lettuce leaf and a slice of bread.