More fruit, fewer calories urged for school lunches

October 21, 2009

According to Reuters, as obesity among adolescents continues to rise, a report from the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies, has proposed updating school meal programs to meet nutritional needs and foster better eating habits, but recognized healthier, fresher ingredients would boost costs, especially at breakfast where fruit servings would increase. It estimated the changes could increase the cost of breakfast by as much as 25% and lunch by 9%. Under the new guidelines, most school food providers would need more government money to help pay for food, training, and equipment, the report said.

The Institute of Medicine conducted the review of the country’s school breakfast and lunch programs at the request of the Agriculture Department, which runs them. School meal programs provide 40 million meals daily and more than half of students’ food and nutrient intake during the school day. Officials at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) are updating the nutrition and meal requirements used for school meals. The framework, last updated in 1995, sets food and nutrient standards that must be met by school programs to qualify for cash reimbursements and food from the government. It will review the recommendations and develop requirements for participating schools.

The new guidelines would do away with the current approach that sets a minimum number of calories per meal in favor of establishing a range. For the first time an upper limit would be in place, with lunches, for example, not to exceed 650 calories for students in up to 5th grade, 700 for grades 6–8, and 850 for grades 9–12. The report backed a gradual lowering of sodium levels during the next 10 years and said schools should ensure half or more of the grains and breads they provide contain 50% or more whole grains. In addition, it proposed serving more fruit, with no more than half it as juice, and favored more servings of vegetables with a focus on leafy greens and orange vegetables rather than starchy vegetables such as potatoes. To keep saturated fat low, only 1% or fat free milk could be served.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement the USDA is “engaged in a thorough review of the IOM recommendations” and will make changes to its school food programs based on its findings.

Reuters article

Institute of Medicine report