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Meet the New School Lunch

So what does a new school lunch look like?

For an average high school student, an 850-calorie lunch may include two baked fish nuggets, a cup of vegetables, half a cup of mashed potatoes, one whole grain roll, and 8 ounces of fat-free milk. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, it’s all you can eat.

Schools will also be encouraged to create healthy snack programs to curb between-meal hunger pains, and parents, too, can pack healthy snacks for kids.

The new meal plan is based on the USDA's MyPlate recommendations. “Half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables instead of meat and starches,” says Erin Corrigan, RD. She is a dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children's Hospital. “They really aren't changing what is being served as far as entrees, but they are adjusting portions and adding in fruits and vegetables. Cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, and pizza should not be staples.”

Parents Must Do Their Part at Home

Doesn’t sound so bad, so why the backlash?

Part of the resistance is that this may be the first time some kids are exposed to fruits and vegetables. “Parents should start serving healthier options at home, too,” Corrigan says. “Change can’t happen only at home or only at school.” The new school meals are designed to meet only a portion of a child's daily nutritional needs.

Ellie Hamburger, MD, also supports the school lunch makeover. She is pediatrician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “We have been struggling with the problem of overweight and obese children for years, and when parents bring in a copy of school menus, we realized what we were up against.”

There will be an adjustment period. But “I don’t think kids will be starving or go hungry. It will actually be quite the opposite.”

Make Healthy Foods More Enticing

Organize a tasting as part of back-to-school night, a PTA meeting, or even during lunch period. “If kids try before they buy, they may be more likely to give it a shot,” says Jessica Donze Black, RD, MPH. She is the project director for the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project at the Pew Health Group.

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