In the early days of August, most students are probably not thinking too much about school. It’s the time of year when trips to the pool or friends’ houses (and maybe sometimes the library) seem like more pressing concerns. But there are others―researchers, advocates and school leaders―who are always thinking about how to create healthier school environments for all students. That often starts with school lunch.
This fall will mark the start of the fourth school year in which schools are using updated nutrition standards for school meals. Because the standards have been in place for a few years now, we’re starting to get research results about its progress.
The verdict? Lots of good news.
Ninety-five percent of schools nationwide are meeting the updated nutrition standards. Ninety-seven percent of elementary schools are offering whole grains for lunch, and 83 percent are offering vegetables, up from 83 percent and 74 percent, respectively, just five years earlier. The majority of students like the new meals, and more students are taking fruit with lunch, and they’re eating more of the vegetables they take. Not surprisingly, the healthier meals are popular with parents across the political spectrum.
That may seem like a lot of numbers, but the short version is that schools across the country are finding ways to serve students healthier meals, and the kids are eating them. One district in Michigan gives out “I Tasted” stickers to students who try the new, healthier dishes. In Minneapolis, 60 percent of schools have new salad bars, exposing kids to lots of healthy options.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as part of its recent $500 million commitment to help all children grow up at a healthy weight, is aiming to make a healthy school environment the norm and not the exception across the U.S. The news from this summer shows there’s progress being made already.
My daughter just turned one, so we’re a ways away from eating any school lunches. I’m just glad that by the time she gets there, the meals will be even healthier.