What You May Not Know About School Meals
School Meals are widely misunderstood. Served in over 100,000 schools across the country, more than 31 million children partake in school meals each day as part of the USDA’s federally funded National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). Many families may not even be aware that their child’s school participates in this program which provides funding for all meals served in school to students of all economic backgrounds.
Schools that are part of the NSLP/SBP must follow very strict nutritional guidelines and keep detailed records on meal production, meal counts and student status. You may have heard a lot of buzz about school meals since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. These initiatives brought school meals to the forefront with the most drastic changes to school meals in over 20 years.
The school meal program is highly regulated and the most audited program in schools. Records, menus, nutritional content and serving methods are reviewed by the state agency in a comprehensive audit every 3 years.
School meals must meet the required meal pattern and nutrition standards that are based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Breakfasts, Lunches and Afterschool Snacks must meet daily food components (food groups) as well as weekly nutrient averages. Meals must meet weekly targets with limits on calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium. So when you see menu items that are traditionally served in fast food restaurants, you can be certain that the school lunch version is much different. School meal items are lower in fat, calories and sodium and are made from lean meats and whole grains.
Lunch Requirements– School lunches each day must include five components in serving sizes appropriate for each grade group. Each day lunches must contain the required quantities of Protein, Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains and 8 oz. of Low-fat or Fat-Free Milk. Flavored milk must be fat-free. In addition, each week, Vegetable servings must come from a variety of subgroups- Dark Green/Leafy, Red/Orange, Legumes, Starchy and Other. So if you have wondered why we add beans to the menu each week, now you know!
Breakfast Requirements– School breakfasts consist of four components with two servings of grains, one cup of fruit and 8 oz. of low-fat or fat-free milk. Flavored milk must be fat-free. At breakfast, one of the grain servings may be substituted with a 1 oz. protein item.
Water is required to be accessible to students at every meal.
Preferred Meals is committed to providing healthy and nutritious school meals to students. Over the last 3 years, all of our menu items have been reformulated to not only meet federal regulations, but to create great tasting, kid friendly meals that students will actually eat. Competing with fast food is not easy! All of our meal items have been Student Approved so that even the pickiest eaters won’t go hungry.
Preferred Meals has made the commitment to continue to reformulate our products to be free of ingredients you don’t want and we are almost there! Within the next year, we will proudly be free of the following ingredients:
- Trans Fat
- No MSG
- No Artificial Coloring
- No Artificial Flavoring
- No Artificial Sweeteners
- No Bleached Flour
- No Starch Non-enriched Flour
- No Bromated Flour
- No High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- No Palm Oil and Partially Hydrogenated Oils
- No Added Animal Fats
- No Artificial Fat- Olestra
- No Caffeine
Yes, REAL food with REAL ingredients that students love.
To access product specifications for your school’s menus click here: Link to Product Specs.
Product specifications are denoted by product code number which can be found on the “Coded Report” menu under the Foodservice Staff link on your menu page. Please note that schools may change or add items to the daily menu and those changes would not be reflected in the planned menu.
Students learn attitudes toward food from those around them. We are counting on adult support to promote healthy and nutritious school meals. Since the beginning of the school cafeteria, school food has been targeted as unrecognizable and unhealthy and shaking that reputation may take a generation or two. Without support from the role models in student’s life, healthy school meals will never get the credit they deserve, and students who need that meal may go hungry.
For more information about School Meal Programs visit the USDA website:
NSLP Fact Sheet: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NSLPFactSheet.pdf
SBP Fact Sheet: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SBPfactsheet.pdf
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