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New national school lunch menus offer healthier choices to students

The United States Department of Agriculture has set new nutritional standards that will require schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to comply with the latest dietary guidelines. The new changes are based on recommendations that have occurred in response to the increasing number of children in the United States who are overweight or obese. Recent reports indicate Tennessee has the sixth highest rate of childhood obesity across the nation.
Students attending Johnson County Schools have already experienced first hand the new meal changes. New plans were introduced for students in kindergarten through eighth grade with a separate plan for high school students. Students who purchase their lunches are required to make at least three choices out of the five food groups offered, including meats, milk, grains, as well as fruits and vegetables. Under the new guidelines, they must choose at least one-half cup of vegetables or fruit. According to Elaine Moore, School Nutrition Supervisor for Johnson County, at this time one half of the grains are whole wheat, but as the new changes become fully implemented, all grains will be 100 percent whole wheat.
In grades kindergarten through eighth grade, students must take eight to ten ounces of meat per week, or two ounces per day, as well as a minimum of eight or a maximum of nine ounces of grains per week. Students receive two ounces of protein at lunch each day. According to Moore, in the past the food service department did not have to keep track of grains such as rice and macaroni the students consumed and that has now changed with the new meal plans. Even the breading on meat will go toward the daily grain totals. The amount of fruits and vegetables available has increased, Moore explained. “We really want them to eat those vegetables,” she said. “There’s plenty out there.” High school students see a small increase in food quantity over lower grades as meat and grain total ounces have increased to 10 to 12 ounces per week per category. They may also take two fruits, such as a one-half cup of fruit and fruit juice. Both one-percent white milk and skim chocolate milk are available. The recent dietary changes also target the number of calories, as well as amount of sodium and trans fat in the food choice.
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