This week, we’ll take a look at some of the ways school lunches are changing in response to the new MyPlate Guidelines, the Federal government’s response to the obesity epidemic among today’s children.
The United States Department of Agriculture first published recommendations on good nutrition for Americans at the turn of the century.
The most recent guide, dubbed “MyPlate,” uses a a simple image of a plate with a circle to the side for a dairy product. It’s fairly simple. If you fill your plate halfway up with fruits and veggies, then add a whole grain item plus some lean protein to the other half, you’re within the guidelines.
Another major message of MyPlate, says registered dietitian Michelle Dudash, is to make half of the grains on your plate whole grains, such as whole wheat bread or brown rice.
MyPlate also emphasizes drinking more water, and fewer sugary drinks, says Dudash, who is president-elect of the Arizona Dietetic Association. Arizona already imposes limits on the amount of sugar a beverage may contain for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, she adds.
Schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)– schools that offer free or reduced-price meals – including public schools, some independent non-profit private or charter schools, must serve meals that meet the new MyPlate guidelines.
No doubt parents have seen some changes in school lunch menus as schools strive to meet the requirements, and, says Dudash, some are puzzled.
“Just by reading menus, says Dudash, “parents many times assume (the new recommendations) are unhealthy. Even though parents see pizza on the menu, they don’t realize that it’s on a whole grain crust and with reduced fat cheese. When they see “French fries” they assume they are fried, when in fact only 11% of all schools in the country even have deep fryers anymore.”
Although school lunches must meet the Federal nutrition requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve, and how they are prepared, are made by local school authorities, says the NSLP.
Next up: Chicken nuggets? Mac-n-cheese? Dudash shares what some local school districts are serving up that might surprise parents.