Changes In Today's School Lunches

Busy Parents Guide To The Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010

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Many people are calling the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) the biggest change to the National School Lunch Program in at least fifteen years.  That means there has been a big shift in national policy for school lunches served to today's school children compared to the time when today's parents were eating school lunches.  In this article, I want to take a look at what changes the HHFKA has brought to food served at school.

The HHFKA is part of the National School Lunch Act.  The National School Lunch Act was originally created in 1962.  the original act created the free and reduced lunch program, in which schools can be reimbursed for serving healthy meals to children from low income families.  The National School Lunch Act also established other programs, such as the Summer Food Service Program.  The National School Lunch Act is reauthorized every five years, often with new, updated revisions.  The last reauthorization was in 2010, when the HHFKA was added to the National School Lunch Act.

The changes in HHFKA include new requirements that are more specific than the old guidelines prior to 2010 versions of the National School Lunch Act.  The main reason for changing these guidelines is growing concern over childhood obesity in America.  Almost one in three children in the US is obese, and certain minority groups are even more likely to be obese.

  Obesity has been linked to numerous health problems, including increased risk of heart disease, asthma, diabetes type II and more.  Additionally, research has shown that children who eat balanced, nutritious meals are better learners. Since children eat as many as half of their daily calories eat school, it makes sense that changes to the National School Lunch Program should go a long way to curbing obesity while providing solid nutrition to school children.

In order to address these concerns, the HHFKA created standards that are more specific than what previous acts suggested.  For example, prior to 2010 school lunches were encouraged to use whole grains, while the new standards state that breads, rolls, and tortillas must be made from at least 50% whole grains.  Other standards include:

  • Increased portions of fruits and vegetables are to be offered at each meal.
  • Calorie minimum and maximums were set for each meal.  The minimums and maximums are set according to grade level.  This standards was set using USDA research on the calorie needs of children at the respective age level.
  • Limits on fats, added sugars and sodium levels for foods and meals served.
  • Milk must be fat free or  one percent milk.  Schools may offer flavored milk that meets the standards.
  • No foods with added trans fats
  • Local wellness policies must be created
  • Snacks, vending machine items and a la carte must meet the Smart Snacks Standards.

These new standards have also been applied to other programs that are part of the National School Lunch Act, such as The School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.


It is important to understand that these new standards are federal standards designed to be implemented nationwide.  US school policy is one area that is particularly driven at the local level, with comparatively minimal federal oversight.  Many states and local school districts already had school lunches that met some or all of these federal standards.  Some school districts chose to adopt even stricter standards than required.  Other school districts are struggling with the new federal standards.  Children and teens who aren't use to this new healthy food may not like the new foods at first, and choose not to buy or eat their lunches, leading to decreased sales and less money for school cafeterias to pay for lunches.

The HHFKA is a large shift in federal level requirements.  In order to make it possible for schools to be able to comply with the new changes the standards were implemented over a five year period, with the last implementation change being required in the 2014-2015 school year.  With the National School Lunch Act reauthorization occurring five years, I think the timeline was stretched out as long as possible before the next reauthorization, and possible updates, occurs.  The HHFKA contained other provisions to help schools implement the new policy.  The Farm-To-School Initiative allows states to receive funding to help get fresh local farmed goods into the school lunchroom.  The USDA also increased the amount of money used to reimburse schools serving meals through it's free and reduced lunch program to help cover some of the higher costs of healthier meals.

Source -  "Let's Move." Learn The Facts. Accessed March 17, 2015.

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