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Thursday, January 13, 2011

U.S. seeks overhaul of school lunches

The following article appeared in today's Star-Tribune:

WASHINGTON - Schoolchildren would have to hold the fries -- and pick up more whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- on the lunch line under proposed new federal standards for school lunches.

The Agriculture Department proposal applies to lunches subsidized by the federal government and would be the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in 15 years. The guidelines are expected to be announced Thursday.

They would require schools to cut sodium in those meals by more than half, use only whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so schools couldn't offer french fries every day.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the new standards could affect more than 32 million children and are crucial because kids can consume as much as half of their daily calories in school. "If we don't contain obesity in this country it's going to eat us alive in terms of health care costs," he said.

It comes just a few weeks after President Obama signed into law a child nutrition bill that will help schools pay for the healthier foods. That law also will extend similar nutrition standards to foods sold in schools that aren't subsidized by the government.

Some school groups have criticized the efforts, saying it will be hard for already-stretched schools to pay for the new requirements. Vilsack says he understands the challenges, but said the changes are necessary. He compares obesity and related diseases like diabetes to a truck barreling toward a child, and says the new guidelines are like a parent teaching a child to look both ways before he crosses the street.

He said, "You want your kid to be able to walk across the street without getting hit."

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