The nutrition standards behind the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program have not been updated since 1995. Today, the federal Institute of Medicine is issuing a report recommending new standards, calling for more produce, more whole grains. And for the first time, a limit to calories.
Thirty million children eat school lunch, and 10 million eat school breakfast -- and the IOM panel says it hopes new standards will help those children develop good habits that they carry into adulthood. That, the panel says, should help curb obesity and other health problems associated with diet.
The panel's recommendations go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for possible implementation. It was the USDA which requested the report.
The panel says new standards would cost money -- for food as well as for training and capital improvements. But it says food costs would go up by less than 10% for breakfast and 25% or less for lunches. The government now spends $8.7 billion a year in reimbursements for school meals to school districts.
The recommendations are meant to bring school food in line with the dietary guidelines the government issues for Americans. It seeks to have the amount of sodium in school meals reduced by more than half over the next decade.
Among its recommendations: that calories be limited, based on age level, for breakfast and lunch, and that the sodium level for a typical lunch be eventually reduced to 740 milligrams. It also sets out targets for weekly servings of fruits and vegetables, and it calls for more whole grains.
"It's about time," says Matthew Sharp of the California Food Policy Advocates and one of the people who testified before the panel. Meals, he says, should be nutritious and affordable and they also should "teach kids healthy habits" and expose them to a variety of foods.
-- Mary MacVean