New School Lunch Rules Dump Lunchroom French Fries

Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.
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Question: What is a school lunch without fries and cheese Nachos? Answer: Legal. (Photo: Getty Images)

French fry lovers take note: the spud sticks' days in U.S. school cafeterias are numbered.

Under new healthy school-lunch guidelines released Thursday, lunch ladies across the country are mandated to ditch the fries and add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The healthier menu is part of the huge school lunch nutritional makeover that was kicked off by the passage of the landmark child nutrition bill a few weeks ago.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—a major component of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign—the federal government is required to raise the nutritional standards in free- and reduced-price school meals for the first time in 15 years.

So what's changing? The new school lunch rules would:

  • Require milk to be low-fat or skim. Flavored milks must be nonfat.
  • Mandate more fruits and veggies
  • Set calorie limits for meals (for the first time ever)
  • Require that breakfasts include a grain and a protein (instead of one or the other)
  • Ban trans fats
  • Lower the amount of sodium in school meals over the next decade—with an eventual goal of cutting sodium levels by half
  • Eventually require most grains served in schools to be whole grains

In practice, the new rules are hoped to upgrade school menus along the lines of a hypothetical set of before-and-after meals presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) during their push for the nutrition bill:

Meal 1:

BEFORE: Bean and Cheese Burrito, Applesauce, OJ, 2% Milk

AFTER: Sub Sandwich with Turkey and Low-Fat Cheese, Refried Beans, Jicama, Green Pepper Strips, Canteloupe Wedges, Skim Milk

Meal 2:

BEFORE: Hot Dog, Canned Pears, Celery and Carrots with Ranch Dressing, Chocolate Milk

AFTER: Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Meat Sauce, Whole Wheat Roll, Green Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kiwi Halves, 1% Milk, and Low-Fat Ranch Dip

Meal 3:

BEFORE: Pizza Sticks with Marinara Sauce, Banana, Raisins, Whole Milk

AFTER: Chef Salad with Low-Fat Italian or Ranch Dressing, Corn, Baby Carrots, Banana, Skim Chocolate Milk

As with everything in government, the new rules won't go into effect overnight. They're proposals right now, and the public can comment on the plan at www.regulations.gov.

The USDA is also gearing up to release new dietary guidelines to the general public, possibly as soon as this month.  

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