School Lunches – The Calorie Limit Debate

School Lunches – The Calorie Limit Debate

Fri 12 Oct 2012

Story by Food Revolution Team

Federal guidelines governing what and how much kids are served at school are being phased in gradually over 3 years, with the first changes taking place this fall. These updates, the first in fifteen years and based on strong recommendations from the Institute of Medicine - based on the best-known dietary science - include more fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains, low-fat and no-fat dairy and calorie limits.

Obesity is currently costing the American economy $190 billion per year and more than 23 million kids in the US are obese. These new school meal regulations, which were consulted widely with stakeholders across the country before being established and released, are aimed to help change these statistics and reverse these worrying trends.

While there is a lot of wonderful work going on in many schools across the country and creative efforts in place to meet these new guidelines there is also some kick back, especially with regards to the new calorie limits:

• Kindergarten to fifth-grade: 550-650 calories
• Six grade to eight grade: 600-700 calories
• Ninth grade to twelfth grade (high school): 750-800

While these limits ought to be plenty for most kids, there has already been an uproar from students saying that they are left hungry from not getting enough food, and a few congressmen wanting to prohibit the USDA from implementing these calorie limits in schools. Both of these actions run a risk of overshadowing some of the great work being done by schools across the country and will only fuel people who are already against the new and updated standards before giving them a chance.

It has only been a couple of months and we need to give the standards an opportunity to work and kids the time to adjust to eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and a little less sugar, salt, and fat.

The difference now is that this is an actual limit so kids can’t take as much pizza as they want, and what they are served (which may still be pizza) comes alongside salad, fruit and low-fat milk which kids aren’t used too.

It’s also been reported that 90% of parents think it’s important that school lunches meet nutrition standards, and we know that kids are inevitably always going to kick up a fuss at change, so perhaps the best thing we can do is take some time, communicate how important the changes are and through some trial and error, let the kids settle in and get used to the new meals.

Children that are starting school now will see this as the norm and as they move through schools, these new foods and school lunches will be what they are used to and we’ll be in a much better situation than we currently are. We just have to be patient, work together and support one another remembering that the childhood obesity crisis is serious and is not going away unless we implement these sorts of standards.

National School Lunch Week

Next week is National School Lunch Week, with National Take Your Parents to School Lunch on Wednesday, October 17th. It’s the perfect time to see what changes have been made to your kids’ school lunches since the new meal regulations came in, and to see how you can support your schools in implementing the new meal regulations smoothly and efficiently. So why not head down to your school next week, check out the lunch and take our first Food Revolution toolkit to get the facts on the food served.

Don’t forget to take some pictures of the school lunches served in the cafeteria to share with us by:

• Emailing us your photos to us at
• Posting your photos on our Food Revolution Community facebook page
• Tweet your pictures to us at @foodrev using the hashtags #foodrevolution and #schoolfoodsrule
• Pins your pictures on Pinterest and G+ using the hashtags #foodrevolution and #schoolfoodsrule

The Food Revolution Team


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