In the United States, August brings the start of the new school year and with it the biggest changes to school food for 15 years.
In January this year First Lady Michelle Obama alongside Tom Vilsack the Agriculture Secretary signed off on new nutrition standards for school meals which will be phased in over the next three years and aim to improve the health and diet of nearly 32 million school children. It should have a massive impact on the health of the nation.
The crucial targets for the changes are:
- Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
- Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
- Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
- Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
Schools caterers have been working hard to ensure that when the new school year begins they were able to meet the new menu recommendations, and their UK counterparts can empathise with what a tall order that can be.
In Georgia and Ohio some children have already been getting a taste of the new menus. There are fears that some will struggle with the strict portion and calorie controls. Schools must show compliance or risk losing subsidies.
Although items like pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers are still available, all children are required to take at least one serving of fruit or vegetables per meal, and portion sizes of these are much larger. Additionally it’s a chance for schools to source from local suppliers and teach kids about the provenance of their food.
As UK school caterers who’ve been battling to improve meal uptakes since their own changes came into being know, winning the hearts and minds of children – and parents – is more than half the battle, so US schools will be trying a wide array of inventive methods to get kids trying and eating their new meals.
We’ll watch with interest to see what happens in the United States as more schools grapple with the standards and the school year progresses. Perhaps some UK caterers can share some of their best tips for getting the students to keep eating their lunches.
Here are some of the details for the new US standards.
Calorie limits are set for meals: grades k-5, 550-650 calories; grades 6-8, 600-700 calories; grades 9-12, 750-850 calories.
Schools must offer dark green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added trans-fats and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk. Under the new regulations all grains – in breads and pastas – must be “whole grain rich.”
To read more about the new standards, visit the USDA website here.