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School Lunch: French Fries Still a Vegetable, But New Rules Are Better

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Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama ate a cafeteria lunch at a local D.C. area elementary school as a sign of support (and photo op) to mark the new USDA nutritional standards for public school lunches.

These rules, which must be implemented by July, 2012, aren't perfect (French fries are still considered a vegetable -- though they should be baked), but they're a start.

Some of the new regulations are just plain common sense. To sum it up - feed kids less processed crap and more fiber rich whole foods that have less sugar, sodium, and fat. Some key parts of the new rule include the following:

  • Food products and ingredients used to prepare school lunches and

    breakfasts must contain zero grams of trans fat per serving (less than 0.5 grams per

    serving) according to the nutrition labeling or manufacturer's specifications.

  • Offer lunches and breakfasts that supply, on average over the school

    week, less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat.

  • Offer fruit as a separate food component at lunch daily. Increase the

    fruit and vegetable amounts at lunch and double the minimum required fruit quantity at


  • Allow schools to offer a non-starchy vegetable in place of fruit/fruit juice at

    breakfast. Allow frozen fruit without added sugar only.

  • Offer lunches and breakfasts that supply, on average over the school

    week, a number of calories that is within the established minimum and maximum levels

    for each age/grade group.

  • Offer a meat/meat alternate at lunch and breakfast daily to meet

    weekly requirements.

Targeting school lunches is, to me, an ideal way to start kids on the road to healthy eating. According to the USDA, over 31 million American children take advantage of free or subsidized school meals.

That means that there are 31 million chances a day to get kids

acclimated to eating healthy instead of starting them on sugar, salt,

and fat addictions.Whatever may happen outside of the classroom,

healthy school meals give these children an opportunity to eat at least

one nutritious meal a day.

When I was a kid, I was chubby. Not obese, just big enough that I was

ribbed about my size. I was called Porky Corky. In mid-'70s Brooklyn,

the odds were stacked against me.

School lunches in Brooklyn were a strange affair -- slimy chicken chow

mein, square pizza, hot dogs, mac and cheese. For snacks, our teachers

actually sold the students potato chips and candy (the teachers reminded us

to ask our parents for milk and snack money). Only full-fat milk was

available, usually warm and about to turn.

There were soda machines in the hallway, where we waited in line to buy

that version of kiddie crack, Mountain Dew, and a candy store on the

corner. The only school cafeteria fruit or vegetable I remember were the anemic, hard,

tiny red apples that were left uneaten on each tray as we filed out to

resume class after lunch. Oh...and greasy buttered corn kernels (to go with the tater tots).

After school was no better. My mother would put out an entire Sara Lee

cheesecake or a box of cookies -- a snack to study by. The defense that

my mother still uses to this day? "I loved you so I fed you. Who knew

about what was healthy in those days?"

That may have held water in the '70s, but it sure doesn't today, and

serving children sodium, fat, and sugar-laden chemically-enhanced foods

at school is heinous.

If there's anyone on the Republican side of the fence who's thinking

about whether to nitpick about the new changes in school lunch standards

that Mrs. Obama is touting, I ask them to reconsider. The health of

our children (and the future savings on healthcare and disability payouts)

transcends politics.

Because no child should ever have to eat an

unhealthy lunch -- or be called porky.

Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.

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