New School Lunch Meal Pattern
New School Lunch Meal Pattern

Today's school lunch trayIt is September, which means back-to-school time for our kids. If your kids eat at school, now is a good time to visit your child’s cafeteria and see the recent changes based on the new federally-mandated school meal pattern. To learn more about the changes in the school lunch, I interviewed the school lunch guru, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD to learn more:

In a nut shell, what are the new school lunch regulations?

The new school lunch meal pattern is meant to provide age-appropriate serving sizes and calorie ranges. It is also meant to shift consumption toward MyPlate recommendations, helping school lunch trays look more like MyPlate, specifically with half of the plate consisting of fruits and vegetables. At least half of all grains served in school lunch must now be whole grain-rich (starting in 2014 all grain products must be whole grain rich) and two varieties of milk are offered daily, unflavored 1%, fat-free and fat–free chocolate milk.

How are you seeing the new guidelines implemented successfully?

School Meals that RockSchool nutrition directors across the country are doing an amazing job at implementing the new guidelines under, in many cases, challenging circumstances. Many actually go above and beyond the guidelines by implementing school gardens, serving locally grown produce in the cafeteria or hiring a professional chef. My Facebook page, School Meals That Rock, highlights some of the many wonderful achievements of school foodservice programs across the country.

Guidelines by themselves are not effective in improving child nutrition. My favorite mantra is, “It is only nutritious WHEN they eat or drink it.” Many successful school lunch programs now have food ambassadors or coaches who encourage kids to try new foods and eat a balanced lunch. They encourage kids to eat both new and unfamiliar foods (how many kids have tried beets before?), as well as consume old favorites that are essential to a healthy diet, such as milk or yes, even flavored milk.

What are the barriers to a successful school lunch program?

Time is one of the biggest barriers; the lunch period is too short in many schools. Some schools have more success in getting kids to eat well if they flip the timing between recess and meal time, with a Recess Before Lunch schedule. After playing outside kids are hungry and thirsty, therefore more likely to enjoy their milk and or try a new vegetable or fruit on the produce bar.

Schools that create a pleasant eating environment are also much more effective at getting kids to eat well. Mealtime should be a time for students to relax, socialize and nourish their bodies and minds. By considering the cafeteria another classroom, schools can create a learning laboratory that models the nutrition education taught in the classroom.

There have been some complaints that the new meal pattern offers too few calories, especially for teenagers (and specifically teenage athletes). This is a problem that may need further consideration.

Parents and teachers, do you want to get involved? Contact your local school foodservice director or school wellness policy committee to help make a difference in your school.

Thank you to San Marcos Child Nutrition Services for the image used in this blog post.