ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CBSMiami/AP) – Your child’s lunch at school is about get healthier. First Lady Michelle Obama has announced a major nutritional overhaul of school lunch meals, promoting a wider selection of fruits and vegetables, foods with less sodium and foods with more whole grains.
The first lady joined Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and celebrity chef Rachael Ray Wednesday at an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia to launch the new nutrition standards for school lunches.
The new rules are the first major change to school lunches in 15 years.
While traditional school lunch items like pizza won’t disappear from the menu, they will now be made with healthier ingredients.
The first lady said kids learn better when they have something other than chips and soda in their stomachs.
“We have a right to expect that the food they get at school is the same kind of food that we want to serve at our own kitchen tables,” she said.
After the announcement, the three went through the line with students and ate turkey tacos with brown rice, black bean and corn salad and fruit — all Ray’s recipes — with children in the Parklawn Elementary lunchroom.
The new rules aren’t as aggressive as the Obama administration had hoped. Congress last year blocked the Agriculture Department from making some of the desired changes, including limiting french fries and pizzas.
A bill passed in November would require the department to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. The initial draft of the department’s guidelines, released a year ago, would have prevented that. Congress also blocked the department from limiting servings of potatoes to two servings a week. The final rules have incorporated those directions from Congress.
Among those who had sought the changes were potato growers and food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools. Conservatives in Congress called the guidelines an overreach and said the government shouldn’t tell children what to eat. School districts also objected to some of the requirements, saying they go too far and would cost too much.
The new guidelines apply to lunches subsidized by the federal government. A child nutrition bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 will help school districts pay for some of the increased costs. Some of the changes will take place as soon as this September; others will be phased in over time.
The guidelines will limit the total number of calories in an individual meal and require that milk be low in fat. Flavored milks will have to be nonfat.
While many schools are improving meals already, others still serve children meals high in fat, salt and calories. The guidelines are designed to combat childhood obesity and are based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
Vilsack said food companies are reformulating many of the foods they sell to schools in anticipation of the changes.
“The food industry is already responding,” he said. “This is a movement that has started, it’s gaining momentum.”
The subsidized meals that would fall under the guidelines are served as free and low-cost meals to low-income children and long have been subject to government nutrition standards. The 2010 law will extend, for the first time, nutrition standards to other foods sold in schools that aren’t subsidized by the federal government. That includes “a la carte” foods on the lunch line and snacks in vending machines.
Those standards, while expected to be similar, will be written separately and have not yet been proposed by the department.
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