A recent study reveals that most elementary age students are accepting the healthier school meals required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Despite early complaints from kids when the new menus were introduced in the fall of 2012, researchers found that attitudes about and sales of the healthier meals improved by the second half of the school year.
The study surveyed administrators representing more than 500 public schools to learn about students’ reactions to the new meals, which must include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and limit sodium and unhealthy fats. 70 percent of schools reported that students seem to like their new lunches and 63 percent said students are no longer concerned about the new changes.
“This significant study reinforces what we have known all along: America’s school lunch program works,” said American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown. “We hope this sends a strong message to Congress that schools should not be allowed to withdraw from or delay any federal nutrition standards. By doing so, we may forfeit the fight against childhood obesity, and jeopardize our kids’ health.”
The survey did reveal that progress has been slower in some areas of the country. In rural schools, for example, respondents were more likely to say that fewer kids were participating in the lunch program and more were still complaining about the new food offerings. This highlights the need for continued resources from the USDA to provide support to school food service professionals as they work to meet the new standards with menus that are appealing to kids.
This new data comes at an important time in the legislative process. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which directed the USDA to update nutrition standards for school meals and snacks, needs to be reauthorized next year and it has been a hot topic in Congress over the last few month. Some Members of Congress would like to weaken or delay some of the standards and grant waivers to schools, while others believe the progress being made to improve the quality of food in our nation’s schools is too important to turn back on.