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Institute of Medicine Panel: Limit School Meal Calories, Sodium

A panel studying school meal programs for the Institute of Medicine has recommended calorie limits along with more fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and less starch and less sodium. The recommendations, which will be presented to Congress as it deliberates the reauthorization of the National School Lunch Act, will admittedly increase costs, by about 18% for breakfasts and 4% for lunches, according to the panel, which was composed of scientists and school officials.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) welcomed the recommendations and called on Congress to provide school nutrition programs with the financial support necessary to bring these changes to the lunch line.

“School nutrition programs offer children well-balanced, healthy meals, but just like our students, we are constantly working to improve ourselves,” says SNA President Dora Rivas, MS, RD, SNS, who is executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services for the Dallas ISD. “The Institute of Medicine’s recommendations offer schools critical guidance for ongoing efforts to enhance the nutrition of school meals. However, school nutrition programs, long under-funded and pressured by rising costs, will need more than just ‘Building Blocks’ to improve on our success. Congress needs to provide the mortar through higher federal reimbursement rates for school meals.”

Among the recommendations in the report, titled School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, are…

• alotting 650 calories for lunches in K-5, 700 for grades 6-8 and 850 for grades 9-12, and for breakfasts to 500, 550 and 600 calories, respectively,

• increasing the amount of vegetables to ¾ cup a day at lunch for K-8 and one cup for grades 9-12,

• increasing the serving of green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.) and beans to at least ½ cup a week,

• decreasing the use of starchy vegetables like potatoes,

• offering more fruit at breakfast,

•serving 1 cup of 1% or skim milk at lunch and breakfast every day instead of whole or 2% milk,

• ensuring that at least half of the grains and breads served are whole-grain,

• gradually reducing the amount of sodium in meals from the current about 1,600 mg in high school meals to about 740 mg in the next decade.

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