School meals will have to offer fruits and vegetables to students every day
USDA rules affect both public and private schools
New rules establish a calorie minimum and maximum based on children's age
School meals will have to offer fruits and vegetables to students every day under standards issued by the United States Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
The meal programs, which feed about 32 million students in public and private schools, will have to reduce sodium, saturated fat and trans fats. Schools must also offer more whole grains as well as fat-free or low-fat milk varieties.
These standards go into effect July 1 and will be phased in over a three-year period, according to the USDA.
The new nutrition standards are largely based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, as part of efforts to curb childhood obesity. Recent numbers show that about 17% of children in the United States are obese.
Under the new rules, school meals will have calorie minimums and maximums per meal based on the child’s age. For kindergarteners to fifth-graders, meals must contain 550 to 650 calories, and for 9th- to 12th-graders, meals must have 450 to 600 calories.
Children will not be forced to take the vegetables and fruits onto their plates; the standards require that the various food groups be offered.
Health groups reacted to the rules mostly favorably, although a controversy erupted in November after Congress decided that two tablespoons of tomato sauce was good enough to categorize a slice of pizza as a vegetable.