Right-Sized: School Meals are the Nutritious Choice on Campus

What’s on the menu today? Caesar salad, chicken teriyaki on a bun or cheese lasagna with marinara sauce & breadstick. And sides include fresh apple slices, jicama and baby carrots with dip or apricot applesauce. These are just a few of the options customers can choose from at over 99,000 locations nationwide. Welcome to the school lunch of 2004.

Every day over 36 million school breakfasts and lunches are served to America’s school children. Provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, these are nutritious, appealing, balanced meals, provided in age-appropriate serving sizes. A network of child nutrition professionals that oversee school nutrition programs on the local level – each of them members of the American School Food Service Association (ASFSA) – are available as expert sources to discuss the realities of school meals and the school nutrition business.

In contrast to convenience stores and fast food restaurants, school nutrition programs have never offered super-sizing. The meals served as part of the NSLP are provided in age-appropriate serving sizes – making schools one of the last places in the U.S. where you can purchase a meal with the recommended serving sizes.

Unlike competing food options elsewhere in the school environment, school nutrition programs offer meals that follow USDA nutrition guidelines – recommending that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. These guidelines apply over the course of one week of school lunch menus. Schools increasingly offer a variety of nutritious choices based on student preferences, including regional specialties, vegetarian fare and meals for the student athlete.

Several recent studies, including those of the U.S. General Accounting Office and Dr. Alice Jo Rainville of Eastern Michigan University, found that the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides children with twice the servings of fruits and vegetables and greater amounts of grains and dairy than children who eat lunch brought from home or who leave school to eat lunch. Dr. Rainville’s study concluded that students who eat school lunches consume 29% less calories from fat and twice as many servings of fruits and vegetables than students who eat a bag lunch.

ASFSA spokespersons can discuss the many innovative ways they are providing nutritious meals, including entrée salads, shaker salads and salad bars that may feature locally grown produce; low fat versions of old favorites; healthy cooking techniques; the value of nutrition education and the trend towards healthy school nutrition environments. To schedule an interview with a spokesperson in a major media market please contact Erik Peterson at 703-739-3900, ext. 124.

ASFSA is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. The Association and its members are dedicated to feeding children safe and nutritious meals. Founded in 1946, ASFSA is the only association devoted exclusively to protecting and enhancing children’s health and well-being through school meals and sound nutrition education.