page top

red arrow bulletFood Service

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act: School meal changes enacted for 2012-2013
Under federal law, meals will include more whole grains and veggies

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act infographicAs a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and signed into law by President Obama in 2010 – students will see major changes to their school meals in the 2012-13 school year.

The new meal standards, outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), require that school meals align with the latest nutritional science. In light of the rise of childhood obesity nationwide, the role of school lunches is no longer to simply feed undernourished children (which was why the federal school lunch program was started many years ago) but to educate students about making healthy food choices.

The changes are the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program that serves about 32 million students around the country.

Fewer Calories

One of the biggest changes taking place is the introduction of meal calorie limits. School lunches must not exceed 650 calories for grades K-5, 700 calories for grades 6-8 and 850 calories for grades 9-12.

Whole Grains

In addition, 50 percent of the breads and grains (pasta, tortillas, rice, etc.) must be whole grain-rich (as opposed to white) and there will be a reduction in the portion sizes of breads and grains served during each five-day period. Next year, 100 percent of the breads and grains offered will be whole grain-rich. All milk will continue to be low fat or fat free.

Increased Fruits and Vegetables

As a result of these changes, fruits and vegetables will become the focus and main portion of each school lunch. All students purchasing lunch will be required to take a minimum of three food components, one of which must be either a fruit or a vegetable. This is so the district is eligible to receive federal and state meal reimbursements.

Also, students will start seeing a wider variety of vegetables. A requirement of the new law is that schools serve legumes, dark green vegetables and red/orange vegetables at least once a week. Another requirement is that sodium content and juice consumption also decrease.

More to Come

The changes that took effect in July are just the first steps in a three-year plan to phase-in the new standards. Changes to breakfasts and snacks served in school will happen during the next two years.

Overall, the new standards will cost about $3.2 billion to implement over the next five years, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, but the government plans to reimburse schools an additional six cents per meal to help offset the cost of buying more fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods.

Even with the additional reimbursement, many districts around the state may need to increase lunch prices because the new law requires them to set their school lunch prices on an equitable level with the free and reduced lunch reimbursements from the federal National Food Service Program. The requirement – referred to as the “Paid Lunch Equity” rule – states that the price of a school lunch must be at least the difference between the federal reimbursement rate for a free and paid lunch.

Working together for Healthy, Happy Kids

Change is always difficult; however the changes to school lunch are a step in the right direction in combating childhood obesity and helping children develop lifelong healthy eating habits.

For more information or questions, please contact School Lunch Manager Andrew Yeomans at 794-8840, ext. 10970 or via email at ayeomans@k12mcsd.net.

For more information on the Dietary Guidelines and to learn more about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act please visit the following websites:

New York State Education Department Information and Resources

United States Department of Agriculture Healthy Meals Resource System

USDA Food and Nutrition Service

United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service

Food Research and Action Center

General nutrition and meal information and Resources for school and home

Tray Talk: Communities for Healthy School Meals

Choose My Plate (USDA)

Let's Move

Cornell Cooperative Extension

USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Press Release and Story Archive

"New School Food Regulations" (Press Release - 4/21/12 - WNYT)

United States Department of Agriculture Press Release (January 2012)

New menu items on the horizon for school lunches (January 2012)