Washington D.C. Council Approves Stricter School Lunch and Exercise Standards

Things have been pretty hectic around here lately, what with the SIX doctor appointments I have this week, so I’ve been kind of slacking on the blogging front.  I read an interesting story about a possible improvement to school lunches, though, so here is a quick review.

The article, from the Washington Post, reports that the Washington D.C. Council approved stricter school lunch and exercise standards for the school district.

In particular, the standard requires public and charter schools in the district to add more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to school meals. In addition, the standard encourages schools to buy their food from organic farms, and to triple the amount of time that students spend exercising. The schools are also required to serve a different fruit and vegetable every day, to only offer low-fat or nonfat milk and whole grains, to ban trans fats, and to limit sodium and saturated fats.

While the measure is definitely a huge step in the right direction, it does fall flat on a couple of levels. In particular, the original measure also limited calories in the meals, but this stipulation was removed at the request of the USDA, even though the Institute of Medicine issued guidelines last fall that recommended calorie limitations.  You might remember from my first post about school lunches that the USDA establishes a minimum requirement for calories, but no maximum. My guess is that the USDA does not want to limit calories because this could potentially limit the amount of food purchased as part of the school lunch program. Luckily, the article reports that health professionals and nutrition advocates are working to get federal calorie limits lowered.

In addition, the measure limits milk to low-fat and nonfat, but does not restrict flavored milks. And we all know that 2% milk, so-called “low-fat,” is actually not low in fat at all. In fact, a half-pint serving of 2% white milk contains 120 calories and a full 5 grams of fat – a whole fat serving. In comparison, the same amount of skim milk contains 80 calories and no fat, while still providing the same amount of Vitamins A, D, C, and Iron as its 2% brother.

The measure also does not re-define a vegetable. So it seems that corn, peas, beans, and potatoes will still qualify as vegetables and will meet the new requirements as long as they are fresh.

Perhaps the most troubling issue is that the council has not yet decided how to pay for the upgrades to the lunch program. Estimated at nearly $6 million per year, the sponsor of the legislation, Mary M. Cheh, proposed a one-cent per ounce tax on canned and bottled soda to cover the increased costs. This tax would generate $16 million annually, but was rejected by other council members.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that fresh fruits and vegetables, lower-fat animal products, reduced-sodium meals, and the return of exercise to the curriculum are definite improvements over the status quo. Hopefully the D.C. school district will succeed with this measure, and more schools will follow suit.

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2 Comments on “Washington D.C. Council Approves Stricter School Lunch and Exercise Standards”

  1. Saffy Says:

    Once upon a time I used to think of corn as a veg. Now I think of it as a cheap form of sweetener. Do you read the blog of that teacher who’s eating the same lunch as the kids every day for a year? Hats off to her.

    32 weeks. Wow 🙂 Please post very regularly ok? Even if it’s just to say “I’m tired but still here”. I’m just about at that point of stalking you on a daily basis to make sure you’re still ticking along… ooooh he’s over 5lb now. Soooooooo close!!!! Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!

  2. Middle Man Says:

    We are wrestling with the same issue in the UK. You may enjoy this related post:

    http://caughtinthemiddleman.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/sandwiches-can-kill/


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