By Nathan Smith

It’s that time of year again. Backpacks are packed with fresh supplies, new shoes are being tied, and school bells are beckoning kids across Texas and the nation. If your child chooses to buy the school lunch instead of packing their own, the lunch line will look a little different this year. 

Earlier this spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a new meal pattern for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. The new requirements will go into effect this school year.

The new rules governing school nutrition include:

  • A boost in fruits and vegetables. Previously, kids were served 1/2-3/4 cup fruit and/or vegetables per lunch. This year, kids will get 3/4-1 cup vegetables and 1/2-1 cup fruit.
  • Less meat. The guidelines for meat now vary by age group, allotting 1.6-2 ounces per lunch for kindergartners through fifth graders, 1.8-2 ounces per lunch for sixth to eighth graders, and 2-2.4 ounces per lunch for high schoolers. Under the previous guidelines, 1.5-2 ounces per meal was the daily minimum for all students.
  • More whole grains. At least half of all grains must be whole grain-rich. Beginning in July 2014, all grains must be whole grain-rich.
  • Lower fat milk. Kids, say goodbye to the thick, delicious whole chocolate milk. Now, all plain milk will be skim or 1 percent low-fat, and all flavored milk must be fat-free.
  • No trans fats. Absolutely no trans fats will be allowed in any school lunch foods.

So, school kids will be seeing more whole grains and vegetables in lunch lines, but will school districts be encouraging lifestyle changes or only making trash cans healthier? And, the recommendation that kids get less protein-rich meat is concerning. Meat is an important fuel that gives kids energy and strength to get through the school day.

In an effort to influence eating habits, a few schools in Michigan and Colorado are hiring “food coaches” to train children on proper nutrition. Some districts recruited parent volunteers to tour cafeterias handing out samples of fruits and vegetables. Food coaches would also demonstrate eating them.

Food coaches?  I never thought I’d hear that term.

I understand school districts’ action to offer healthier options for kids. We need some changes—it’s true. I wonder if these changes will be implemented at home? Will green veggies be flung on trays only to be wasted? In theory, the new rules could do some good. Until put into practice, we will wait and see if our students agree.

What about at your house? Do you send your kids with a packed lunch or do they buy lunch at school? What do you think about the new menu changes?