Healthier school lunches to be served up to American children under USDA rules

Months after US lawmakers protected pizza's status as a vegetable, US school children will find healthier food on their trays, under the federally backed rules.

Under the new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines, school cafeterias must serve up more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and less sodium, US news media reported.

Servers will also be required to keep an eye on portion control: Kindergartners through fifth graders, for instance, should be limited to an average of 550 to 650 calories for lunch, the rule reportedly states.

The Guardian wrote that:

The rules represent the first major revision of school meal standards in more than 15 years and are intended to combat the nation's childhood obesity crisis – nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese.

According to the Washington Post, pizza and french fries will still be on the menu after trade associations representing food manufacturers including ConAgra Foods, Schwan Food, McCain Foods Ltd and J.R. Simplot Co. successfully lobbied Congress to have them counted as a vegetable portion — in the case of pizza, because of its tomato paste.

They Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), to be phased in over five years starting in the 2012-13 school year, was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and approved by President Barack Obama in late 2010.

Michelle Obama unveiled the new nutrition rules Wednesday at Parklawn Elementary School in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

“When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home,” she said, according to the Washington Post. 

The HHFKA provides funding to schools for the menu changes and will reportedly cost about $3.2 billion to implement.

School lunches are served to 32 million kids around the country.

Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said at a press briefing that in addition to improved nutrition, officials were targeting age-appropriate portion sizes to limit "plate waste."

"We want to minimize that," he said, referring to the food that's tossed out because there's simply too much on the plate for kids to eat, according to MedPage Today.

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