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USDA Releases Proposed Nutrition Standards for School Meals

District leaders may be interested to learn that the U.S. Department of Education has released guidelines for healthy school lunches.

The proposed rules follow closely the recommendations released in October 2009 from the Institute of Medicine, a Washington-based policy group that the USDA solicited for its opinion.

Among its recommendations, the institute said the new standards should: increase fruit and vegetable offerings, limit milk to the low-fat or fat-free variety, introduce more whole grains to school meals, establish minimum and maximum calorie levels for meals, and reduce sodium.

The USDA is accepting comments on the proposed rules through April 13 and will release final rules after the public comment period.

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Many of these changes have been recommended for some time, but the proposed rules, if approved, would mandate certain changes. For example, while schools are encouraged to incorporate whole grains into meals, the proposed rule requires that at least half the grains in each school meal be whole, as opposed to refined.

The School Nutrition Association, an Oxon Hill, Md.-based organization representing school nutrition officials, said in a statement that it welcomes the proposed standards.

"By raising the bar for school meals nationwide, these proposed standards will promote healthier lifestyles for America's schoolchildren," said SNA President Nancy Rice.

But some school officials say they worry that improving school lunches, while a laudable goal, will put pressure on district finances without federal support. I touched on that issue when I wrote about the passage of the $4.5 billion child nutrition act late last year.

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