School lunches are about to get much healthier. First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that soon the meals will have less sodium, and will include more whole grains and more fruits and vegetables as sides. The new rules, which will go into effect in the 2012-2013 school year, will also allow schools to serve tofu and other soyfoods and soymilk to children who regularly consume them at home. Pizza will still be on the menu, but made with healthier ingredients.
Obama and Vilsack announced the new guidelines — the first major nutrition overhaul of school meals in more than 15 years — at the Parklawn elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia. Obama said that children who are on a sugar high or have a tummy filled with high-sodium, greasy food have difficulty focusing on their schoolwork.
"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," Obama said. "And when we're putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria."
Obama became involved in the effort as part of her signature “Let’s Move!” initiative that works to fight childhood obesity. In 2009-2010, studies showed that 24.3 percent of Black children and adolescents were obese compared to 14.0 percent of white children and adolescents.
The first lady also noted that the school lunch for many kids whose families are struggling financially may be the only nutritious meal that they get each day. Ensuring that it is in fact a healthy meal not only helps fight childhood obesity, but also child hunger. Approximately 32 million children participate in the school lunch program.
Obama was joined by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, who helped prepare lunch using her recipes of turkey tacos, black bean-and-corn salad and fruit.
“Schools are finding that when they actually offer these healthier options, kids aren’t just willing to try them, they actually like them. That's the thing, that's the surprising thing,” Obama said. “I've been to so many schools across the country where parents see their kids eating fresh vegetables off the vine, kids they say would never try anything, but that's the beauty of children — they change.”
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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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