September 19, 2012 —
New national lunch standards this year require schools to offer fruits and vegetables every school day, only fat-free and low-fat milk options, and more whole grains. Calorie limits for students will also be set based on grade level.
The new national standard for school meals that’s behind this change is just one of five major components of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! health and wellness campaign.
To meet the new standards, most schools will need to double the amount of fruits and vegetables they serve, and must offer specific categories of vegetables weekly (leafy green, orange/red, legumes, and beans). The standards also limit the quantity of processed, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and corn) schools can offer throughout the week.
Overall, the new standards will cost about $3.2 billion to implement over the next five years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, but the government plans to reimburse schools an additional six cents per meal. In order for meals to qualify for state and federal reimbursements, students must take at least three of the five offered components each day. The additional six-cent reimbursement is intended to help offset the cost of buying more fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods.