School Lunches: What’s New?

What's new at the lunch table?There are big changes coming to school lunches near you, but don’t worry! We’re here to help. We’ve put together a breakdown of everything that you need to know about the new face of school lunch.

Out with the Old

Foods that do not promote good health are going to be restricted. That means...

  • No more trans fat. In anything.
  • Saturated fat must contribute no more than 10% of a meal’s total calories.
  • Refined grains are going to be cut way down. In fact, at least half of all grains purchased must be whole grains.
  • Say sayonara to whole milk. Thanks to its saturated fat content, it is being replaced with healthful alternatives.

In with the New

In order to craft healthful and balanced school lunches, the following foods are vital...

  • Fruit. Every day. Whole fruits are encouraged. In fact, no more than half of all foods in the fruit category can be served in the form of juice.
  • Vegetables are going to play a central role in the new system. In addition to daily vegetable options, all 5 MyPlate vegetable subgroups must make an appearance over the course of each week.
    • Subgroups: leafy greens, red & orange veggies, beans & peas, starchy veggies, and other veggies.
  • Nonfat and 1% milk will replace all other milk options. All flavored milk must be nonfat and at least two different milk choices must be offered per day.
  • Half of all grains must be rich in whole grains.*
  • According to schoolnutrition.org, meat and meat alternatives must be offered in one entree and only one other additional food. One ounce of cooked protein, without breading or skin, counts as a single ounce portion.*

Calorie Guidelines and Options

The new system involves calorie minimums and maximums. These are calculated based on average calorie needs per grade level. For reimbursable meals, the following requirements must be met...

  • At least 1/2 cup of fruits or vegetables must be on the lunch tray.
  • At least 3 of the 5 food groups from MyPlate must be represented.
    • These groups include vegetables, fruit, dairy, protein, and grains.
  • The total calorie count of the foods on the tray must be within the specified window for the appropriate grade level.
    • Grades K-5: 550-650 calories / lunch
    • Grades 6-8: 600-700 calories / lunch
    • Grades 9-12: 750-950 calories / lunch

Note that the children can move outside of these requirements, but at that point, they must also pay for the food. For example, if a child does not include at least half a cup of a fruit or vegetable, that child will be charged for a meal “a la carte.” Foods over the calorie limit are available, but will also include an “a la carte” charge.

* After initial complaints that calorie needs weren't being met, the USDA temporarily rescinded the calorie maximums for meat and grains, but the change is temporary.

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