Serving Healthy School Meals
Despite Challenges, Schools Meet USDA Meal Requirements

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As school food authorities work to implement the USDA's new meal standards, they may face challenges, including limitations in existing kitchen equipment and infrastructure, and in the training and skills of food service staff. This is the first of a series of reports summarizing how schools are putting in place the USDA standards and what challenges they face before they can reach full implementation.

Serving Healthy School Meals
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Michelle Cardoso, Tel: 202-540-6816

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Over the past four decades, the obesity rate among children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 has more than tripled.This has increased the risk of young people developing health problems such as cardiovascular disease, depression, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, sleep disorders, and high cholesterol. More than 31 million U.S. children participate in the National School Lunch Program each school day, and many students consume up to half of their daily calories at school. As a result, schools have the potential to help reverse the national childhood obesity epidemic.

In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, proposed updated nutrition standards for school meals to align them with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and current information on children’s nutrient requirements. USDA’s standards call for schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and to serve only fat-free and low-fat milk. In addition, the standards place limits on calorie and sodium levels, and eliminate foods with trans fatty acids, or trans fats. Schools were required to implement the new standards for lunches in school year, or SY, 2012-13 and for breakfasts in SY 2013-14.

As school food authorities,* or SFAs, work to implement the new meal standards, they may face challenges,including limitations in existing kitchen equipment and infrastructure, and in the training and skills of food service staff. In January 2012, the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project—a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—began conducting the first national study to assess the needs of SFAs. The Kitchen Infrastructure and Training for Schools study examined challenges SFAs encountered in implementing the new meal requirements under the National School Lunch Program, and collected data on their reported needs for new equipment, infrastructure changes, and staff training.

The findings presented in this report are based on a self-administered, online survey of school food service directors or their designees (primarily food service managers) from a nationally representative sample of the administrators of public school food authorities.

* A school food authority is the local administrative unit that operates the national school breakfast and lunch programs for one or more school districts.

Date added:
Sep 30, 2013
Michelle Cardoso, Tel: 202-540-6816
Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project
School Food
Related Expert:
Jessica Donze Black
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1 C.L. Ogden et al., “Prevalence and Tends in Overweight Among US Children and Adolescents, 1999-2000,” Journal of the American Medical Association 288, no. 14 (2002): 1728–32; C.L. Ogden et al., “Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in the United States, 1999-2004,” Journal of the American Medical Association 295, no. 13 (2006): 1549–55; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “QuickStats: Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Teenagers, by Age Group and Selected Period—United States, 1963-2002,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 54, no. 8 (2005): 203.

2 J.C. Han, D.A. Lawlor, and S.Y. Kimm, “Childhood obesity,” Lancet 375, no. 9727 (2010): 1737–48; D. S. Freedman et al., “Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study,” Journal of Pediatrics 150, no. 1 (2007): 12–17; E. Whitlock et al., “Screening and interventions for childhood overweight: a summary of evidence for the US Preventive Services Task Force,” Pediatrics 116, no. 1 (2005): e125–44; E.R. Sutherland, “Obesity and asthma,” Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America 28, no. 3 (2008): 589–602; E.D. Taylor et al., “Orthopedic complications of overweight in children and adolescents,” Pediatrics
117, no. 6 (2006): 2167–74; W.H. Dietz, “Health Consequences of Obesity in Youth: Childhood Predictors of Adult Disease,” Pediatrics 101,suppl. 2 (1998): 518–25.

3 National School Lunch Program: Participation and Lunches Served. Accessed June 1, 2013.

4 M. Story, “The Third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study: Findings and Policy Implications for Improving the Health of US Children,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109, no. 2 (2009): S7–S13.

 5 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2010. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. 7th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Accessed May 13, 2013.

 6 Institute of Medicine. 2006. Dietary Reference Intakes Essential Guide Nutrient Requirements. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

 7 K. Ralston, C. Newman, A. Clauson, J. Guthrie, and J. Buzby. 2008. The National School Lunch Program: Background, Trends, and Issues.Economic Research Service Report 61. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

8 M.K. Fox, E. Condon, M.K. Crepinsek, K. Niland, D. Mercury, S. Forrestal, C. Cabili, V. Oddo, A. Gordon, N. Wozny, and A. Killewald. 2012.School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study-IV: Volume I: School Foodservice Operations, School Environments, and Meals Offered and Served. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Research and Analysis.

9 Federal Register. 2012a. 7 CFR Parts 210 and 220, Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs: Final Rule.U.S. Department of Agriculture, 77 (17) (January 26, 2012).

10 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, with the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI). 2002a. A Guide to Centralized

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