Whats For Lunch

Thursday, January 13, 2011 - 3:49pm

USDA proposes dramatic changes to public school lunches.

For the first time in a generation the USDA is proposing sweeping changes to boost the nutrition of the nation's school lunch program.

The USDA is calling on school cafeterias to add more fruit and cut back on starchy staples like French fries.

"We have to keep in mind that the students have to eat the food, and so making it tasty and healthy is going to be one of our biggest challenges," says Dora Rivas.

Rivas is a registered dietitian and executive with the Dallas, Texas school system.

Her schools have already been implementing healthier choices by replacing refined grains with heart-healthy whole grains and brown rice.

"Many of the students on their own have been asking us for healthier food options on the cafeteria line, so I think they will welcome the changes," she says.

Some of the USDA's changes will take longer than others.

The amount of sodium in meals will be cut in small increments over the next decade so kids' taste buds will have a chance to adjust.

Other proposed changes include establishing a maximum number of calories allowed for each meal, cutting the fat content of milk and offering a greater variety of vegetables.

The agency attributes the proposed changes to the growing obesity epidemic.

"We're very concerned about the fact that a third of our youngsters are at risk of being obese or in fact obese, and there are serious consequences to not getting our arms around this problem right now," says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Schools that meet the new requirements will receive an extra 6-cents of federal funding per meal.

It's up to each school district to figure out how to adjust the budget to meet the guidelines.

The rules are expected to take effect sometime after a public comment period that ends in April.

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