Back to school nutrition part 4: school lunch legislation


We have all been hearing the buzz around childhood obesity and the connection with a need for healthier school lunches. According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates in children aged 6-11 have increased from approximately 6% in 1980 to approximately 20% in 2008. Obesity increases the risk of diseases affecting nearly all body systems. School lunches are certainly part of the child health puzzle.

Over the years there have been an increased demand for school lunches to replace unhealthful processed, highly refined carbohydrate options and calorie laden fried foods with healthier options such as ample fresh produce, lean proteins, whole grains and non-sugary drinks. There is concern whether school lunches are even okay to feed our children. How do we make sense of what is happening with childhood obesity and how it relates, not only to school lunches, but to nutrition education in schools?


School lunches now have new hope for being on their way to becoming healthier through the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to amend the Child Nutrition Act by the Senate on August 5th, 2010. This covers programs reaching millions of children that were scheduled to expire. Important additions of this Act which help school lunches become healthier include applying new science based nutrition standards to all foods sold in schools, providing more fresh local produce through increasing farm to school programs and the strengthening of nutrition education in child nutrition programs.

Specifically, schools now have to apply nutrition standards for lunches and all food sold in schools, including vending machines. However, decisions on what kinds of foods will be sold and what ingredients will be replaced or limited will be left up to the Department of Agriculture. This legislation increases the Federal reimbursement rate for school lunch by about 6 cents per meal. This means there is more money to spend on healthier options for the first time in over three decades since 1974.


What about nutrition education in schools? Grants for nutrition education are part of this legislation also. However, the grants are intended for supplemental nutrition programs such as WIC and for low income families. Regardless, as childhood obesity is reaching an all time high, schools are beginning to look toward Registered Dietitians to provide nutrition education.

Registered Dietitians are also becoming more prevalent in Pediatric practices to assist with providing nutrition education not only for children but also for their parents enabling the family as a whole to be successful in navigating healthy eating as a lifestyle. Children need a solid foundation in nutrition education and not only offered healthy food choices but also taught about nutrition, appropriate food choices and how those choices throughout their lives can be a foundation for a lifetime of good health.