Updated nutrition guidelines are dramatically increasing demand for some fresh produce items and are transforming school lunches for nearly 32 million students.
While cost and student acceptance of increased servings of fruit and vegetables are concerns, school foodservice directors were positive about the new guidelines.
Schools in Emporia, Kan., are using about three times as much fresh produce as last year at the same time, said Jill Vincent, school foodservice director for the Emporia school district, with 4,600 students. “Our coolers are filled to the roof of produce that we are purchasing.”
Vincent said students are taking and eating the fruits and vegetables.
“That’s the goal of this, and that’s a good thing.” she said.
In January, first lady Michelle Obama announced the school meal nutrition standards, and the new rules went into effect in July. In August, the first lady issued a video encouraging kids to embrace the new school meal plan.
The new standards increased requirements for fruits and vegetables in school lunches from the previous one-half to three-fourths of a cup (combined) per day to the new requirement of three-fourths to one cup of vegetables plus one-half to one cup of fruit per day.
The regulations also say that children must take at least one serving of fruits or vegetables for the meal to be reimbursable.
According to the regulations, schools must offer a wide variety of vegetables, including a weekly serving of dark green and red/orange vegetables and legumes. Other provisions said that no more than 10% of calories can come from saturated fat and that schools must eliminate added trans-fat. The regulations require reduced sodium levels and increased whole grain bread requirements over time.
With the school year just beginning in some parts of the country, it is too early to judge the effect of the new rules, said Cathy Schuchart, vice president of child nutrition and policy for the National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association.
“What we have been hearing is that people are adapting to the challenges and the changes,” she said Aug. 30. “The attitude is extremely positive but there are some hurdles.”