School meals for millions of children will be healthier under new USDA standards unveiled Wednesday.
Under the new guidelines the amount of fruits and vegetables in cafeteria lunches will be doubled, whole grain-rich foods will be increase, maximums for calories will be set, and sodium and trans fat will be cut.
It is the first major change to school meals in more than 15 years and will affect nearly 32 million children who eat at school. It will cost about $3.2 billion to implement over the next five years.
Some students in the Buffalo school district could see larger portions as part of the changes, according to Bridget O'Brien Wood, Food Services Director, but the additional calories will all be healthy.
"The high school students will be seeing increased portion sizes on their fresh fruits and vegetables and their cooked vegetables," said Wood. She says Buffalo has anticipated the changes for several years, and has slowly been moving in a more nutritional direction. The pizza served her lunchrooms is already made with crust that is 51% whole wheat, but she says its not clear if that will be enough to satisfy the USDA's whole grain requirement.
"That is something we have to become more educated on, the whole grain, and what is a whole grain, what is the defination of a whole grain and what will meet the requirement," said Wood.
As part of the new standards, students will be required to take a healthy option, even if they have no intention of eating it. For that reason, Wood says students are in need of more education in nutrition.
"They will have to take a vegetable whether they want it or not, and if they eat it, that's great, but if not, that's a reality that we already experience with some of our items right now," said Wood.
As for other foods, like meat products that soon will need to be prepared with less sodium, it comes down to trial and error.
"The industry is working with us, but it all comes down to child taste, and what an adult thinks is ok and what a child thinks is ok is two different issues," said Wood. "So finding that perfect recipe that everyone is going to be happy with is going to take some time, but we have the time to do it."