Healthier choices

School lunches get a nutritional makeover
Healthier choices

Both fruits and vegetables must be served daily under new guidelines.

North Carolina schools have been busy revamping lunch menus in line with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) new school lunch guidelines. The requirements are aimed at aimed at improving child nutrition and reducing childhood obesity, and are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law late 2010.

The new lunch standards will be phased in over three years, beginning this fall at schools across the nation. Schools are permitted to focus on changes in lunches in the first year, with most changes in breakfast phased in during future years.

Dr. Keith Ayoob, RD, a child nutrition expert, highlights the biggest changes under the new guidelines:

More colorful fruits and vegetables

Both fruits and vegetables must be served every day of the week, and there is now a weekly requirement for specific colors of vegetables. Previously, schools only had to offer either fruits or vegetables.

Whole grains

While encouraged in the past, schools now must offer whole-grain rich foods. Schools are looking at how to ensure foods are nutritious, but also appealing to kids.

Attention to portions

Calorie limits will be enforced based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size. New menus will be increasingly focused on reducing saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

Nutrient-rich milk

Along with low-fat and fat-free white milk, now all the chocolate milk served for school lunch will be fat free. For some time, the nation's milk processors have been lowering the calories and sugar in what's called school-flavored milk. School-flavored milk now has 38 percent less added sugar than just five years ago and, on average, just 31 calories more than white milk.

Flavored milk is a popular choice in school lunch rooms, and kids drink less milk and get fewer nutrients when it's taken away. Whether flavored or white, milk has nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D and potassium, all of which many kids fail to get enough of. Learn more about milk at www.milkatschools.com.

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