When students head back to school, most will be offered a smorgasbord of healthier lunches.
New federal nutrition standards for school meals take effect, raising the bar for the first time in more than 15 years. Schools must meet the standards to get federal meal reimbursements.
The changes are dramatic -- more variety, larger portions of fruits and vegetables, at least half of grains made of whole grains and limits on salt and calories.
Many school districts are doing major overhauls. Others that have already improved nutrition in recent years are upping their game:
Hillsborough County Schools in Tampa will serve new entrees, such as a spicy black-bean vegetarian wrap and sweet-potato-encrusted fish topped with pineapple salsa. These come atop an already progressive menu that includes roasted broccoli, vegetarian lasagna, and mac and cheese made with pureed butternut squash.
Knox County (Tenn.) Schools will offer whole-grain biscuits, pizza with whole-grain crust and a tomato sauce that contains sweet potato puree, and a spring-mix lettuce salad with smoked turkey, strawberries, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.
The Wake County (N.C.) Public School System is offering larger servings of fruits and vegetables, including sprite melon, which is similar to honeydew.
"It's going to take some work to get kids used to a new way of eating," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group. "It means schools have to serve not only healthy foods but good-tasting, appealing foods."
The quality of school meals has been hotly debated for years because of concerns that the lunches offered too many high-fat, high-calorie foods such as chicken nuggets, french fries and pizza. A 2010 law directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for school food. About 32 million children eat lunch at school every day, and 12 million eat breakfast there. Kids consume 30% to 50% of their daily calories at school.
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