There are dark leafy greens, colorful fruits and fewer overall calories in Arizona school lunches this Fall, a symbol of progress in health policy and a likely prelude to slowing or reducing childhood obesity. The first major update to the National School Lunch Program in 15 years is playing out in cafeterias across the country, and while the guidelines aren’t optimal, they are at last headed in the right direction.
More than a few groups – including us – noted that Congress effectively classified pizza as a vegetable when crafting the new regulations, but let’s not let perfect be the enemy of the good. The new rules require both fruits and vegetables every day of the week and pump up whole-grains while putting the first ever cap on calories (by age), permitting only fat-free or low-fat milk and reducing amounts of sodium, trans fats and saturated fat. Again: not perfect, but not so bad either.
The impact of a more nutritious school lunch policy will likely be profound. One million Arizona students now have better food choices, and school districts have higher meal reimbursement incentives to ensure that their menus match up with the new guidelines. In the context of where school cafeterias have been (and by this we’re sadly referring to wolfing down unlimited burgers and fries during our own high school days), there’s definitely good reason to celebrate a local newspaper report that starts with a third grader trying to eat too many strawberries for lunch.