New rules would require healthier school lunches

Battle Creek Elementary salad bar
This lunch line at Battle Creek Elementary in St. Paul is set up to force all students to walk past a salad bar, where they can take as much of any item as they want.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

School lunches would get healthier under new rules proposed Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The changes include cuts in sodium, a cap on the number of calories per meal, and more whole grains.

Rosemary Dederichs, director of food service in the Minneapolis Public Schools, sat on the committee that developed the changes. She said Minneapolis schools have a good head-start, but some districts would have a hard time adjusting to the changes.

"The sodium reduction is going to be very difficult, in terms of what our palates are used to," she said, "as Americans -- not just students." Districts may also have a hard time figuring out how to pay for the healthier meals, she said.

The proposed rules would be the first major change in student meal requirements in more than a decade. Schools would be required to serve more fruits and vegetables for lunch, as well as serve low-fat milk. Dederichs said they will be hard for some districts to follow, but they're necessary, in part to fight obesity.

"We've seen not just childhood obesity, but obesity in the general population escalating," she said. "The school setting offers a unique opportunity to expose children to healthier eating habits."

The rules announced today are only a proposal, and it could be several years before schools are required to make all the changes.

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