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Columns

August 11, 2012

School lunches getting a healthy makeover

Ada — Smarter lunches are now being served in school cafeterias across Oklahoma.  

Beginning this fall, students will be treated to better-balanced meals including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The changes, spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local school districts, are part of a nationwide overhaul of cafeteria offerings affecting students in grades kindergarten and above.

Beyond giving young Oklahomans the fuel to do their best in class and extracurricular activities,  the upgrades will help the state address childhood obesity and food insecurity concerns.

Schools are an important source of nutritious food for kids across Oklahoma. Now we have standards that control calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat that contribute to poor health, and ensures that kids who are missing meals at home are getting enough at school.

More specifically, lunches now include:

• A wider variety of vegetables offered weekly, including dark green and red/orange, as well as beans and legumes.

• Fruit offered daily, including fresh, frozen with no added sugar, canned in water or natural juice, and 100 percent juice in limited amounts.

• At least 1⁄2 cup of fruit and/or vegetables in every meal, and kids can select more at no additional cost.

 • More whole grains, including whole-grain rich breads, cereals and pastas. Kids can choose between low-fat milk and skim milk.

• Meals prepared without the use of trans fat.

Thanks to revamped guidelines schools are empowered to provide nutritionally appropriate meals for kids throughout the state. However, parents can play a big role, too.

Talk to your child about the new options, and encourage them to make healthy choices. For instance, every meal includes at least one serving of fruit and/or vegetable, and they can add more at no extra cost.

Joining the kids for lunch in the cafeteria is another way parents can show support for the menus. So, too, is getting involved with the Healthy and Fit School Advisory Council. Many schools have a council, so there are plenty of opportunities for interested parents to participate and provide input on the school’s wellness policy. The school principal or a counselor can provide details.

Parents also should be ready for changes to the breakfast standards in 2013-14, including increasing the quantities of fruit and whole grains. Additionally, over a three-year period, revamped school meals will meet dietary standards for age-appropriate sodium content.

Because the standards are more focused than ever on providing nutritionally sound meals to school children, it just highlights the important roles school breakfasts and lunches play in helping kids learn, grow and perform to their fullest potential.

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