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Let Them Eat Veggies: School Lunch Gets a Makeover

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WebMD Health News

Oct. 1, 2012 -- School lunches are getting an extreme makeover.

Gone are fried tater tots, chicken nuggets, and pepperoni pizza. In their place are heaps of whole grains, veggies, fruits, and low-fat dairy products, along with baked versions of formerly fried favorites such as chicken nuggets or fish sticks.

Students will also be seeing less salt and trans fats thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. There are also calorie caps on the lunches: 650 for elementary school students, 700 for middle schoolers, and 850 for high school students.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rolled out the new school lunch menus at the start of the 2012-2013 school year for the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and obesity programs. Previous school meal standards were developed 15 years ago and did not reflect current nutritional guidelines.

The menus are intended to help stamp out childhood and teen obesity in the U.S. As it stands, one in three kids in America is overweight or obese. And diseases linked to obesity that were once seen only in adults are now increasingly being diagnosed in kids. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Not Everyone's on Board

The change has fueled some controversy. The Hunger-Free Kids Act may actually be leaving some students ... hungry.  

A YouTube video that parodies the song “We Are Young” by Fun went viral. In it, Kansas teens sing “We Are Hungry" in protest of the lunch menu changes. There have also been brown bag campaigns and boycotts across the map, and a new bill before Congress that seeks to repeal the calorie caps.

“There's no question that schools should encourage healthy eating,” says Jeff Stier. He is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.  But “the USDA is ... leaving active children so hungry that they tend to leave the school lunchroom to buy less nutritious and more calorie-dense foods. Ironically, the Hunger-Free Kids Act is leaving kids hungry.”

But it's a start, others say.

“We have some real problems with obesity and this didn’t start yesterday,” says Janey Thornton, PhD. She is the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “School lunches are not the total solution, but hopefully a small part of it that can help children ... take responsibility for what they eat and portion sizes.”

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