Preparing for the Next Phase of the School Meal Patterns
By Deborah Beauvais, RDN, CDN, SNS
Beginning July 1, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program will have to meet new nutrition targets as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. These new targets include increased fruit and vegetable offerings, more whole grains, and lower sodium counts.
The new targets are part of the federal government’s desire to fight childhood obesity and ensure kids receive larger portions of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as part of the meals they consume at school. The following is a breakdown of what the new targets will entail.
Schools will be required to offer a minimum of 1 cup of fruits or vegetables at breakfast, for a total of 5 cups per week, and only one-half of that total can come from 100% fruit or vegetable juice. Foods can’t contain trans fat; less than than 10% of total calories can come from saturated fat, and they must meet specific sodium targets by grade grouping.
All grains will have to be whole grain rich. Foods that meet this criterion will contain either 100% whole grain or a blend of at least 50% whole grain meal/flour and the remaining grain, if any, must be enriched.
The USDA has given specific directions on how to qualify grains to ensure they meet the criteria. School meal operators are asking manufacturers for ingredient lists and Nutrition Facts labels for their products as well as product formulation statements to ensure the grain products meet the new requirements.
The first of three lower-sodium targets for breakfast also must be met beginning in July. The current baseline average sodium levels are between 573 and 686 mg for breakfast. The new targets will be based on the students’ grade groupings: grades kindergarten through 5, no more than 540 mg; grades 6 through 8, no more than 600 mg; and grades 9 through 12, no more than 640 mg (see table below). An 8-oz serving of milk is a mandatory breakfast component, which contains between 104 and 204 mg of sodium based on its formulation. Breads and grains average 100 to 120 mg per 1-oz serving.
Finally, to make breakfast a federally funded reimbursable meal, students will be required to select a 1/2 cup of fruits or vegetables, as was the requirement for lunch in July 2013.
The current meal pattern for breakfast consists of 2 oz of bread/grains (1 oz of protein can replace 1 oz of the bread/grains), 1/2 cup fruit or 100% fruit or vegetable juice, and 8 oz of fat-free or low-fat milk. Of the grains offered, 50% of the options must be whole grain rich.
Calories for breakfast range from 350 to 600, depending on the students’ grade groupings: grades kindergarten through 5, 350 to 500 kcal; grades 6 through 8, 400 to 550 kcal; and grades 9 through 12, 450 to 600 kcal. Foods can’t contain trans fat; less than 10% of total calories can come from saturated fat, and they must meet specific sodium targets by grade grouping.
In July 2012, one-half of all grains offered with school meals had to be whole grain rich. Starting this July, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich.
Many students have adjusted to whole grain–rich breads. However, various schools nationwide have struggled to find specialty whole grain products such as tortillas, biscuits, and pastas that students like. In addition, there has been limited availability of whole grain–rich products in rural areas, and there are strong regional preferences for refined grains such as white rice and white tortillas. The new target affects any food served that contains a grain, so manufacturers are scrambling to reformulate products to meet this requirement.
Schools already are significantly decreasing sodium levels on school menus for lunch to meet the first of three sodium reduction targets. Beginning in July, sodium levels for kids in grades kindergarten through 5 must be no more than 1,230 mg; grades 6 through 8, no more than 1,360 mg; and grades 9 through 12, no more than 1,420 mg. Previous baseline average sodium levels ranged between 1,377 and 1,588 mg based on grade groupings.
Naturally occurring sodium present in milk, meats, and other foods make the new sodium targets difficult to achieve. Popular and healthful choices such as low-fat, whole grain cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, and deli sandwiches could be eliminated from school menus if manufacturers can’t develop products that meet these new standards.
The current meal pattern for lunch will remain in effect. It’s prescriptive and includes specific serving sizes based on grade groupings. It even splits the vegetables required into various subgroups. Calories range from 550 to 850, depending on the students’ grade groupings: grades kindergarten through 5, 550 to 650 kcal; grades 6 through 8, 600 to 700 kcal; and grades 9 through 12, 750 to 850 kcal. Like breakfast, foods can’t contain trans fat, must have no more than 10% of total calories from saturated fat, and must meet specific sodium targets according to grade groupings.
Meeting the Challenge
As the next phase of school meal legislation takes effect, school nutrition operators will be challenged to find products children will like to eat, that will be cost effective, and will meet the stricter regulations on whole grains and sodium. In turn, there will be many teachable moments to encourage students to try the new offerings, and in some cases foods they may taste for the first time. School nutrition operators will continue to provide a variety of tasty and healthful choices for children at mealtime nationwide.
Detailed memos and guidance from the USDA on school meal regulations can be found at www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/nutrition-standards-school-meals.
— Deborah Beauvais, RDN, CDN, SNS, is the school nutrition director for the Gates Chili Central, East Irondequoit Central, and East Rochester Union Free school districts in Rochester, New York, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
New Sodium Targets Schools Must Meet
— Source: Code of Federal Regulations: Nutritional standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs; final rule, 7 CFR Parts 210 and 220 (2012)