McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Opinion

February 6, 2013

USDA decision leads to more meat, grains in school lunches

McALESTER — The United States Department of Agriculture announced in December it is relaxing the daily and weekly maximum limits of grains and meat in school lunches in Oklahoma and across the nation for the rest of the 2012-13 academic year.

The change does not affect calorie limits or daily and weekly minimums of grains and meat now in place as part of new USDA school meal standards that went into effect this fall.

Setting aside the daily and weekly limits on grains and meat gives school lunch professionals more flexibility to plan healthy meals that taste great. Lifting the maximums for the remainder of the school year also will give suppliers additional time to more widely offer meat and grain products in a broader range of appropriate serving sizes.

As a result of recent federal policy revisions, school lunches currently feature increased daily servings of fruits and vegetables, plus a greater variety of vegetables each week, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and other vegetables.

Students also have a choice of flavored and unflavored fat-free milk or unflavored low-fat milk, and enjoy a larger selection of whole grains.

Overall, the better balanced school meals will help Oklahoma and other states battle two important issues facing kids and families — childhood obesity and food insecurity. About 30 percent of the nation’s youth are obese, leaving them at risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

There also are a lot of children going to bed hungry because their families cannot afford to put meals on the table every night.

About 65 percent of Oklahoma students are eligible for free or reduced priced meals. Each day, about 434,000 students in the state enjoy school lunches, and approximately 227,500 eat breakfast at school.

A lot of kids across Oklahoma count on getting a nutritious meal at school. Now we have policies that help us address obesity and ensure kids who are missing meals at home are getting something healthy at school.

As part of an ongoing national overhaul of school meal policy, revamped breakfast standards going into effect in 2013-14 will include increased fruit and whole grains.

For more information in Pittsburg County, call 918-423-4120 or log onto www.oces.okstate.edu/pittsburg.

LaDell Emmons is the Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for the Pittsburg County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at ladell.emmons@okstate.edu.

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