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August 8, 2012

Back-To-School Survival: The New School Lunch

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

August is bittersweet for me. I know that it's still summer, but my mind often shifts into back-to-school mode.

In less than four weeks, my kids will be in school, and, while some moms jump for joy at the thought, I find no cause to do the same. I love our relaxed schedule, and dread the return to juggling the kids' homework, sports, and volunteer activities.


It's probably best to ease back into a regular school-year routine.  Before you start buying pencils, backpacks, and new clothes for the kids, take a minute to consider what's new with school lunch.

Let's face it: School lunch has been the butt of a lot of jokes, and downright scorn.  This year, school lunch got a makeover, and meals are healthier than ever, thanks to new Federal standards. 

Every school lunch must include 1% or fat-free milk, grains (the new regulations demand more whole grains), lean protein choices (including beans, eggs, and yogurt as meat alternatives), fruits, and vegetables. Children must take at least one serving of fruits and vegetables with their meal. 

I was never a fan of the big portions the schools were required to serve to students, which meant the same amount of food for a first grade girl and a fifth grade boy, for example. The new rules are more age-appropriate for calories, so there's less chance for excess intake in the younger set.

Another pet-peeve of mine has been fixed, too. The old standards allowed some snack-type fruit products, such as fruit leather, to be counted as fruit. No more. Fruit is either fresh, frozen without added sugar, or canned in its own juice, water, or light syrup. 

One of my dietitian friends has a saying: It's not nutrition unless you eat it. For school lunch to be truly successful, kids must enjoy it.  Parents play a role in the success of the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million kids a mid-day meal every day.

What can you do to improve school lunch even more? 

• Encourage your child to try school lunch. Review the cafeteria menu with kids to determine which meals they'll buy during the coming week.

• Communicate your concerns about school lunch to school officials. 

• Encourage your child to drink the milk that comes with school lunch.  All milk is now 1% low fat or fat-free. Flavored milks served in school are fat-free, too.  Milk is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients your child needs to grow.

• Check out , a national resource for learning more about school lunch initiatives, success stories, and getting involved in making school lunch better.

Coming up in my next blog: What you and your family should eat to get your brain in gear!  

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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