New nutrition standards for school meals proposed

It's all about keeping our kids healthier. In fact, childhood obesity continues to be a significant problem in the United States.

Today, for the first time in 15 years, the USDA is raising nutrition standards for school meals.

The quality of school meals has been hotly debated for years because one-third of children in the USA are overweight or obese. In fact, officials say kids consumer 30% to 50% of their calories while at school.

The Centers for Disease Control say 12.5 million American kids are considered obese. Here's a scary statistic also from the CDC, 20% of Texas children are considered obese.

"Several studies have shown that childhood obesity and obesity in general contributes to higher rates of disease, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, things like that," said Micah Wing, BSA Clinical Nutrition ManagerThe Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set new nutrition standards for all food served in schools.

The rules released today apply to school meals. Regulations for other foods such as those in vending machines will come at a later date.

Here's how the new standards for school lunches break down.

First, there will be an established maximum calorie and sodium limits for meals.

Next, schools will be required to serve a fruit and vegetable every day at lunch and in larger portions than offered before. However, the portion sizes will vary by age groups.

Schools will also offer a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red-orange vegetables, starchy vegetables and legumes each week. No more starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes. Again, the amount will vary based on age groups.

After the two years of implementation, all grains offered to students must be rich in whole grains such as brown rice. Breads, buns, cereals and pastas must list whole grain as the first ingredient.

Milk must be either low-fat or fat-free. Flavored milk, like chocolate, must now be fat-free.

Foods that are served contain no-trans fats.

The USDA is also proposing a maximum calorie levels for different age groups.

"It's important to switch that mind-set to medicine from treatment to prevention and targeting kids in the schools is a great time to target prevention," said Wing.

But it seems Amarillo Independent School District had already made many of these changes.

A statement Pronews 7 received from Chartwell's School Dining Services, which provides meals for the district, says:

"We strongly support these improvements to the breakfast and lunch meal patterns that are required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2010. These revisions reflect the same types of changes in the Chartwells' own guidelines published that same year."

These new guidelines are something most parents agree on, that it's time our students start eating healthier.

The new lunch standards will take effect next school year. Changes to breakfast will be phased in slowly.