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School lunches aligning with dietary guidelines

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 11:10 a.m. CST

The final rule for nutrition standards in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program was released Jan. 26. It brings a new pattern to plan menus for school meals, which align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Being in compliance with the new standards will qualify schools for an additional 6 cents for every reimbursable lunch (free, reduced and paid) starting Oct. 1, 2012.

Under the new meal pattern, students at the secondary level are served a minimum of two ounces of meat/meat alternate per day with a weekly limit of 12 ounces, two ounces of bread/grain with 10-12 ounces equivalent for the weekly total, one cup of fruit, one cup of vegetables and a milk. There also is a minimum and maximum calorie limit of 750-850 kcal per meal, along with requirements for different categories of vegetables to be served per week, such as dark green, dark orange/red and a legume every week. The new meal pattern requires students to take a minimum of half a cup of fruit or vegetables along with two other full components to count as a reimbursable meal.

Many students are complaining nationwide that they are not getting enough to eat from the school lunch being provided. The school lunch is meant to meet one-third of the daily requirement for total calories, and at 750-850 this is right on target. Recommended calories for a 14- to 18-year-old is 1,800 for a sedentary individual and 2,400 for an active teen. One problem here is that students are not taking advantage of all of the food they are being offered. Eating a balanced meal with many fruits and vegetables is something that many will have to get used to over time.

Another issue is that of athletes, but not every athlete has the same caloric needs. Those who are very active may need more calories than the average student. Many schools are offering fruit and vegetable bars where students can always take extra fruits and vegetables to provide additional calories. Another option for students is to purchase an additional lunch or a la carte option to meet their additional needs.

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