School lunches go green and leafy

January 31, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

School lunches are getting a healthy makeover for the first time in 15 years.

The changes were made in response to the childhood obesity epidemic – an estimated 30 percent of children are obese or overweight.

The new rules require school food programs to:

  • Serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables.
  • Offer dark green and deep orange vegetables and legumes every week.
  • Use whole grains in half of the grains served.
  • Reduce salt by 10 percent.
  • Only sell 1 percent or fat-free milk and fat-free flavored milk.



Offer five food components at every lunch including a grain, meat, fruit, vegetable and milk.


New federal guidelines, championed by Michelle Obama and signed into law by President Barack Obama, are part the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The mandates go into effect in September, though the guidelines will be phased in over the next three years. Ultimately, school lunches will have fewer calories, less fat and less salt.

According to the guidelines, students must take three of those components – and one must be a fruit or vegetable – in order for schools to get federal reimbursement for a lunch.

The changes are expected to cost U.S. schools about $3.2 billion over the next five years, according to the USDA. But schools will get some help in the form of a 6-cents-per-meal reimbursement – the first such increase in 30 years. The USDA is also encouraging schools to partner with local farms to get more fresh fruits and vegetables in the classroom.

Read more on the new guidelines and reaction to them:

View a copy of the USDA Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs here.

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