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Federal Nutrition Standards Linked to Healthier School Lunches

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Students at one urban school district in Washington state ate healthier lunches after their schools began complying with new federal nutrition standards, and participation in the lunch program remained steady, a new study found.

Authors of the study, which was published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, examined about 1.7 million lunches at three middle schools and three high schools in the unnamed district between 2011 and 2014.

The meal standards, created under the authority of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, were implemented in 2012. They called for schools to add more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to meals while limiting fat, salt, and calories.

The authors, from the Center for Public Nutrition at the University of Washington, found school lunches prepared after the new standards were implemented had higher levels of six nutrients: calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, fiber and protein. And meals had fewer calories per gram of food after schools made the switch.

The report notes that researchers studied the meals as they were prepared and did not know whether students actually consumed the foods.

Some critics of the meal standards have said they've led to an increase in so-called "plate waste" discarded by students who are unhappy with the changes.

Related reading on school lunches:

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