January 27/Washington/USDA -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) has released new nutritional standards for school meals, a means to help ensure the nation’s schoolchildren have access to lunches and breakfasts that meet federal dietary guidance for good nutrition. The standards will encourage students to meet federal recommendations for dairy consumption by requiring that either fat-free flavored milk or low-fat or fat-free white milk be offered with each school meal.

“On average, by the time they are four years old, children fall below the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended dairy intake. By requiring that schools offer low-fat or fat-free milk with every meal, these standards can help children come closer to meeting their nutrient needs,” said Jean H. Ragalie, R.D., president of National Dairy Council. “Building nutrient-rich school meals is an important step toward helping students develop healthy eating patterns at an early age, and we commend the USDA for making important updates to school nutrition standards at a time when providing children access to proper nutrition has never been more important.”

While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends increasing intake of low-fat and fat-free milk, especially among children, the new school meal standards include a provision that all flavored milk offered in school be fat-free.

The updated nutrition standards also extend beyond lunch and into school breakfast programs. Nutrient-rich foods, such as low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt are cited as important options for school menus to help students fuel their day in a nutritious way.

“The new school meal standards are one of the most important advances in nutrition in decades,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “They’re much needed, given high childhood obesity rates and the poor state of our children’s diets.”

Approximately 32 million children eat school lunches and breakfasts, providing half of many children’s daily calories, according to USDA. The standards were mandated by Congress in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law by President Obama in late 2010.

 From the January 27, 2012, Prepared Foods' Daily News.