Washington School meals are leaner and more nutritious. Under pressure from federal officials, schools have trimmed fat, cholesterol and sodium from lunches and breakfasts and are offering children more fruits and vegetables, the government says.
A decade ago, barely a third of elementary schools offered students lowfat lunches. Now, four of every five schools do, according to an Agriculture Department report released Wednesday.
Schools have lowered the overall fat content of meals from 38 percent of calories to 34 percent of calories, the report said. Under USDA rules, the maximum is supposed to be 30 percent. Levels of saturated fat also are down.
"School meals reach nearly 27 million children each day, sometimes providing the most nutritious meal a child receives," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. "Fortunately, more than ever before, these meals are hitting the mark in providing good nutrition and healthy selections."
The report is based on a survey conducted during the 1998-99 school year and follows up a similar study done in 1991-92 that had alarmed federal officials. The Agriculture Department began requiring schools to meet minimum standards for nutrients and the 30 percent maximum for fat content.
Schools have altered their menus and food preparation. Turkey and chicken are now mixed with beef to lower the fat content. Cafeteria workers skim fat from broth before making gravy. Schools offer a range of fresh fruit that are popular with kids, including strawberries, melons and even kiwis.
"What we've really been focusing on for the last six years is to enhance our school meals so that they do offer nutrient-dense foods that will benefit our children," said Marilyn Hurt, president of the American School Food Service Assn.
But offering healthy meals is one thing; getting children to eat them is another.
"Kids choose what foods they know. If they are eating a lot of pizza at home, they're going to choose pizza at school. It's pretty hard to overcome what they have been learning at home," said Hurt, supervisor of nutrition programs for the schools in LaCrosse, Wis.