The newly-released USDA nutrition standards for school meals include requirements for more fruits and vegetables, more whole-grains, and less salt and fat. In a welcome addition for many vegetarians, schools now have the option to use tofu as a meat alternate for school lunch and school breakfast programs. According to the USDA, approving tofu "allows schools to diversify the sources of protein available to students and better meet the dietary needs of vegetarians and culturally diverse groups in schools." (This is what VRG had suggested in spring, 2011 when we commented on the proposed regulations.)
Here are a few more key changes:
- The new lunch standard calls for ¾-1 cup of vegetables PLUS ½-1 cup of fruit per day; the old standard required only ½-¾ cups of a combination of fruits and vegetables.
- The new standard for school breakfast doubles the amount of fruit required to be served.
- At least half of the grains served must be whole grain rich (more than half of the product must be whole grain), effective July, 2012; by 2014, all grains served must be whole grain rich.
- Schools are required to serve specific amounts of dark green and red/orange vegetables each week; in the past requirements were merely for total amounts of vegetables with no requirements for these more nutritious vegetables.
- Schools must serve at least ½ cup of dried beans or peas each week.
- Schools are no longer required to serve a meat or meat alternate at breakfast.
- Any food served must have 0 grams of trans-fat per serving.
These changes will be implemented over the next several years.
To learn more about vegetarian options in school meals programs, please visit: http://www.vrg.org/fsupdate/index.htm