The USDA School Breakfast & Lunch Programs: Serving up change for the better!


Schools are now required to follow new guidelines for National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. The changes were made to align more closely with the healthy eating recommendations found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in hopes of curtailing the escalating childhood obesity trend.

What’s Changed?
In a nutshell, schools are required to increase the number of fruit, vegetable, whole grain, and fat-free and low-fat milk servings offered to children while reducing sodium as well as saturated and trans fats in all meals served. All of this must be accomplished while meeting the nutrition and calorie needs appropriate for children in grades K-12.

Fruits and Vegetables
No longer considered one group, fruits and vegetables are now separate. Fruit must be provided at both breakfast and lunch, and no more than half of the fruit offered can be juice. Five cups of vegetables per student must be served throughout the week which must include one green and one orange vegetable, along with one serving of a legume (beans and lentils). Students must select a fruit and a vegetable in order for that meal to be considered reimbursable to the school.

Whole Grains
At least half of the grains being served must be whole grains with the ultimate goal of converting to 100% whole within the next two years.

For breakfast, meat or meat alternate must be offered. The required portion size per day of protein is a 1-ounce equivalent for grades K-8, and a 2-ounce equivalent for grades 9-12. Meat alternates include beans and legumes (which can also be counted as a vegetable but not as both a vegetable and protein for the same meal), nuts and seeds.

In an attempt to reduce unnecessary calories, both fat-free and low-fat versions of plain milk must be offered, but only fat-free flavored milk is allowed.

Trans and Saturated fat

All meals need to meet specific calorie ranges for all ages and grade groups. Guidelines mandate a gradual sodium reduction over a 10-year period with specific benchmarks to be reached at the 2-, 5- and 10-year marks, which vary per school and per grade level. Meals must also be prepared with no trans fat and comply with existing saturated fat targets.

Getting it Done
“There are challenges ahead for schools striving to meet the new guideline” notes April Hershfield, school nutrition specialist and former president of the Wisconsin School Nutrition Association. “Getting children to eat vegetables has always been tricky. Now we’re going to have to get even more creative with our recipes, like adding in veggie purees to bolster nutrition content,” says Hershfield. “It’s also important that changes being implemented on the school front also be championed at home,” encourages Hershfield. Research has shown that children are influenced by their family and peers’ choices, so it will truly take a comprehensive effort to get kids to adopt healthier eating habits.