Ray Gilmer, United Fresh Produce Association The new school year is bringing big changes in lunchrooms across America.
Schools are implementing new nutrition standards that double the amount of fruits and vegetables served to 32 million students through the National School Lunch Program, the first such improvement in more than 15 years.
Produce industry companies are partnering with schools across the country to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals, so this is a clear victory for our industry and nutrition advocates.
It’s also a milestone, and we can proudly say our industry and our nutrition and school partners are helping to dramatically improve the nourishment of millions of children every day.
The impact goes beyond the school lunchroom. Many of these kids come from households where fruits and vegetables aren’t part of daily diets.
They’re discovering new flavors that they can ask for in future meals. For them, this modern school nutrition standard is a great step toward providing a foundation for healthy eating for the rest of their lives.
As big as these changes are, there are bound to be some growing pains that come with this transformative lunch standard. You’ve probably seen news coverage, including in The Packer, about the new school lunch standard coming under fire. Critics say there aren’t enough calories to feed active, growing kids.
The fact that schools have to manage the transition to the new lunches is expected. After all, many schools hadn’t updated their lunch standards in 15 years. Schools have always had to adjust their lunch offerings (as well as breakfast and snack offerings) based on kids’ age, weight and activity levels.
Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh’s vice president for nutrition and health, and our industry’s leading advocate for greater fruit and vegetable servings in school meals, reminds me that school lunches were long overdue for an alignment with the federal government’s dietary guidance.
Think about how many millions of kids’ lunches have been served that were nowhere close to the nutritional goals recommended by the government and national nutrition authorities.
These new standards were developed with the input from a two-year study by the Institute of Medicine. The IOM’s 2009 report, “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” recommended that USDA adopt standards that would:
- increase the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains;
- set minimum and maximum levels of calories; and
- reduce the amount of sodium and saturated fat.