I was delighted to read the new USDA guidelines requiring schools to serve meals with twice as many fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less sodium and fat, and no meat for breakfast. The guidelines were mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by President Obama in December of 2010 and will go into effect with the next school year.
The new guidelines offer a welcome change from USDA's tradition of using the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for meat and dairy surpluses. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of American children are consuming excess fat, only 15 percent eat recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, and one-third have become overweight or obese. These early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In recent years, Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida legislatures asked their schools to offer daily vegetarian options, and most school districts now do. The Baltimore public school system offers its 80,000 students a complete weekly break from meat.
Parents should continue to insist on healthful plant-based school meals, snacks, and vending machine items. They can consult www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, www.healthyschoollunches.org, and www.vrg.org/family.