New School Meals Stepping Up to the Plate


9.29.2012 In light of recent media coverage the new meals standards have received, including a spot on the Jon Stewart show, CFPA reaffirms support for the new meal standards and encourages school districts to work to ensure successful implementation.

As students headed back to school across the country, they were welcomed with school meals different than those in years past. Students found on their lunch tray more fruits and vegetables, greater variety of whole grain products, as well as limits on the amount of meat and grains served and new calorie maximums. In California, as well as other parts of the country, some districts have had success implementing the new meal requirements. They have taken steps to engage students, train staff, and communicate changes in order to ensure that the new menus will be embraced. Change takes time, and schools and parents alike know that children need gradual exposure to new foods and vegetables, and they also need encouragement to try these new foods.

The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) developed the new meal pattern requirements using a scientific process. While some students might find smaller portions for their center of the plate items (entrees) due to the new grain and meat daily maximums, they will find that if they eat the entire meal which includes increased quantities and variety of fruits and vegetables, they will have enough food and fiber to help keep them full in the afternoon.

School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children (IOM report). Link

With increased concerns about access to adequate healthy calories, it is important to remember that there are other nutrition programs offered at school that are designed to ensure that all students, particularly low income students, are well nourished. School breakfast is largely underutilized, with over 2 million low income students in California missing out on the benefits of the most important meal of the day. New federal funding for afterschool meals also ensures that low-income students have access to healthy and filling food when school gets out, so they can get the most out of their afterschool activities. No one program is intended to meet the daily needs of students, so it is critical that schools and communities look at all of the ways they can serve the students'nutritional needs.

Change is always tough and while some districts in California have proven themselves to be leaders, we have seen that these improved and updated federal standards are necessary to make sure that all students have access to healthy meals at school. Healthy food means healthy kids, and healthy kids are more likely to succeed at school. That is something we can all support.

CFPA is leading the REAL School Food Initiative to work on strategies and policy opportunities in support of freshly prepared meals made from whole and minimally processed ingredients and to improve the appeal of school meals. Visit our website to learn more about the initiative and you can also download a handout describing our School Meals Plus strategies for successful meals and a list of resources that can get you started on improving the appeal of school meals.

REAL School Food Initiative. link

School Meals Plus Handout. PDF 

Calorie Infographic. PDF

For questions please contact Markell Lewis, 510-433-1122 x107, or Ariana Oliva, 213-482-8200.