There are better meals in school cafeterias this year, thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, designed to fight child hunger, combat obesity and improve the health and nutrition of the nation’s students.

Schools are phasing in new nutrition standards over a three-year period, starting with lunches in this first year and moving on to changes in breakfast menus in subsequent years.

The new rules are designed to ensure:
•    Students are offered both fruits and vegetables each day
•    There are more whole grain-rich foods offered, along with low-fat or fat-free milk
•    Portion sizes are better controlled to provide more age-appropriate caloric intake
•    Food contains less saturated fat, trans fat and sodium

It is the first time in more than 15 years that nutrition requirements have been updated for school meal programs. The effort is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign that was signed into law by President Obama.

Audrey Rowe, the administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of  Agriculture (USDA), is charged with overseeing 15 nutrition assistance programs and education efforts that help children and needy families.

Most recently, Rowe served as Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs at FNS, which led the effort to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

In addition to FNS programs, Rowe has served as Human Resources Administrator in New Haven, Connecticut, and Social Services Commissioner for the State of Connecticut and the District of Columbia. In addition, she served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the National Urban League.

But Rowe is not a run-of-the-mill administrator. She has gone on the road to look at how the changes are being implanted and seeking feedback from students about the food.

At a stop at Perrysburg High School in Ohio, several students lamented that soup had been taken off the menu. Rowe talked with school officials about ways to keep down the costs of healthier meals and shared ideas from other school districts, including developing partnerships with local farmers. The administrator at Perrysburg told Rowe that the school was developing a new menu. And, yes, soup will make a comeback, according to The Toledo Blade.

She told the Perrysburg students to call her when new recipes were out, adding, “You gotta invite me back to try the soup.”

For information about FNS and nutrition programs, visit www.fns.usda.gov.

Click here for answers to your healthy lunch questions.

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