School lunch could be changing.
The USDA proposed new school nutrition standards in February. The proposal looks at four main areas: added sugar, milk, sodium, and whole grain.
“Most children, all children, between the ages of 5 and 18 were exceeding the amount of recommended added sugars in a day,” said Amy Reed, a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a registered dietitian and nutritionist and works at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
Children were also exceeding recommended daily amounts of sodium.
“The third thing is they want to work to increase the offerings of whole grains because in the dietary guidelines, it was shown that all children between the ages of 5 and 18 were not meeting the recommended intake of whole grains,” Reed said.
Why the changes? It’s impacting health.
“They think added sugar could be contributing to heart disease as adults, and increased risk of diabetes as adults,” said Reed.
A 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found a rise in child and teen obesity during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, the priority was making sure all children were fed, and so some of the requirements that had previously been in place were eased in order to make it easier for school districts to feed children,” Reed said.
The USDA is currently taking public comment on the proposal through April.
“The goal is to start fading some things in the 2024 school year,” she said.
Nutritionists understand it’s hard for parents to calculate what kids are eating, but there are some steps they can take in the meantime to create a more balanced diet.
“Rather than using the word limit, let’s think of what we can offer instead. So maybe rather than offering cookies for a snack, can we offer vegetables like carrots and some fruit and some whole grain crackers,” Reed said.