FoodFit Round Table

Welcome to the FoodFit Round Table—where experts speak out on food and health news.

THE TOPIC: The National School Lunch Program

The health of our nation's children is of utmost importance to all of us. For that reason, the National School Lunch Program was created in 1946. During my term as Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, the US Department of Agriculture in 1995 took the major step of updating school lunch nutrition standards for the first time in 50 years. In accordance with the US Dietary Guidelines, schools began offering healthier meals that were lower in fat and sodium and offered more fruits and vegetables. More and more of our 97,000 schools are moving ahead with healthier and tastier foods, but some schools do not yet meet the standards and our job is not done yet.

FoodFit asked the experts:
"What can be done to bring about full compliance in all schools to ensure that all American children have healthier school meals?"

Ellen Haas
Founder and CEO,


"I congratulate the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local schools for the tremendous work they have done to move in the direction of meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. School breakfasts and lunches [now] contain lower levels of fat and saturated fat and more carbohydrates relative to calories than ever before. In the school-year 1998-99, fully 82 percent of elementary schools and 91 percent of secondary schools offered lunch meals that were consistent with the Dietary Guidelines' recommendation for fat and saturated fat, and roughly two-thirds of all school lunch program menus offered more than two fruit and vegetable choices each day.

"I encourage USDA to continue to move in this positive direction and also to enhance nutrition education efforts. Just because healthier meals are available to children does not necessarily mean that students are taking full advantage of these choices. There are too many competing food choices in schools that do not meet our federal guidelines."

Senator Tom Harkin
Sponsor of Better Nutrition for School Children Act


"Guaranteeing that as many children as possible have access to the healthiest school meals requires the coordinated efforts of funding agencies, community organizations, educators and, most importantly, parents. In addition, dietetics professionals are well positioned to advise local schools and districts on the nutrition science behind the Dietary Guidelines and the best ways to implement them. That includes designing healthy menus, teaching students to balance food choices and developing high quality food service systems. Finally, all children must have the opportunity to learn about healthy eating habits that reinforce the food choices in their school meal program—eating habits that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

Susan T. Borra, RD
American Dietetic Association President


"While there is still some work to be done in refining and strengthening the standards for school meals, there are virtually no nutrition standards for foods sold in a la carte lines, vending machines, and fundraisers. The only federal restriction, which is poorly enforced, is that soft drinks, lollypops and other foods of minimal nutritional value cannot be sold in the cafeteria at meal times. However, they can be sold right outside the cafeteria at any time. That loophole undermines the nation's investment in child nutrition programs. Under current school nutrition standards, parents can be reasonably confident that the meal will provide a good balance of vitamins and other nutrients without providing too much fat if a child buys a school meal. However, if a child instead uses their lunch money to buy something out of a vending machine, it's likely to be high in fat or sugar.

"Many schools enter into exclusive marketing contracts with soft-drink companies. In exchange for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, school districts end up with increased advertising, more vending machines, and most likely, greater soda consumption. We do need to consider the financial strains that schools face, but school officials should not solve funding problems at the expense of our children's health."

Dr. Margo Wootan
Director, Nutrition Policy
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Does your child's school lunch program meet the Dietary Guidelines?
Yes (23%)
No (61%)
I'm not sure. (16%)

The US Dietary Guidelines suggest that no more than 30 percent of total calories should come from fat each day. Of this, no more than 10 percent should come from saturated fat. Cholesterol intake should be less than 300 mg per day.


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