First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled on Wednesday new standards for school meals — the first revisions in more than 15 years. The goal: To provide healthier meals and better nutrition for the nearly 32 million children who take part in school meal programs.
The new standards include offering fruits and vegetables every day, increasing whole grain-rich foods, serving only fat-free or low-fat milk, limiting calories based on children’s ages, and reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Mrs. Obama and Vilsack, who were joined by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, made the announcement at an elementary school in Alexandria, Va.
“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in a news release. “And when we’re putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home.”
In the same statement, Vilsack said, “Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids.”
Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that “these changes to school food standards are welcome, commendable and unquestionably helpful in efforts to combat childhood obesity and all of the metabolic mayhem that follows in its wake.”
Still, Katz doesn’t think the changes go far enough.
And they aren’t as complete as the Obama administration had wanted, according to the Associated Press.
Last year, Congress blocked some of the agriculture department’s planned revisions, including cutting down how often french fries and pizza could be served, the news agency said.
In November, Congress passed a bill requiring the agriculture department to continue to count tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable, the AP reported.
“Making healthier pizza is a great idea. However, it is unfortunate and rather ridiculous that Congress still thinks tomato paste is a vegetable,” said dietitian Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.