School Lunches: Joining Nutrition and Taste

Do you know what's in your child's school cafeteria? A new wave of government programs regulating school lunches will ensure a healthy lunch for all students.

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Now, the NSLP has been expanded through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. “In my opinion, these are the most comprehensive changes that have occurred to school lunch in its history,” says Barbara Nissel, food-service consultant for the Radnor Township School District. “We’re at a critical moment—a tipping point—in our country’s awareness that healthy foods make healthy kids.”

Castaneda credits the passionate, high-profile advocacy of first lady Michelle Obama and TV chef Jamie Oliver for tipping the scales. “Congress was motivated to make substantive changes to the program—and fund them,” she says.

One change boosts required amounts of whole grains in foods like bread, pretzels and pizza crusts. For the 2012-2013 year, they must be 50-percent whole grain; by 2013-2014, it’s 100 percent. Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin/Easttown school districts have already complied with the first requirement.

“Something like that is relatively easy for us to do because we bake everything in our kitchens,” says Dave Preston, food and nutritional services supervisor for Tredyffrin/Easttown School District. “What’s a challenge is meeting the requirements with food from manufacturers.”

Ubiquitous yet invisible, sodium is one of those challenges (see "Sugar's Evil Twin"). “It’s easier, in a way, to reduce sugar intake because we can cut desserts, sodas and foods that we know have a lot of white sugar,” says Castaneda. “But sodium is in almost everything we eat, and most people haven’t yet become sodium-aware in the same way they’re sugar-aware.”

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