As I was opening a new document to begin this blog post, Paul Simon’s “Outrageous” shuffled on to my iTunes by pure coincidence. “It's outrageous,” Paul sang, “the food they try to serve in the public school.” Yes, it is outrageous, but hopefully it has become slightly less outrageous now that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has unveiled the USDA’s new school lunch standards.

Improved standards include more fruit and vegetables, more whole grains, a push for lower-fat milks. There are also calorie limits, but I have no idea how those calorie limits are going to be enforced. Will students be prohibited from buying extra snacks or second meals?

I have to admit that I’m a skeptic when it comes to government standards and guidelines for school lunches. I don’t see how they’ll make much of a difference if there isn’t a demand for change at the local level from the schools and the parents. So, while these new standards might be something to be happy about on paper, I’m not ready to sing any praises until I see actual changes in my own local school system that the students embrace. (Which, by the way, my district recently sent out a request for parents who would like to be on a committee to look at the lunches — a huge step for us).

That’s just my initial, gut reaction to what I’ve read so far. There are others whose opinions might be a little less biased than mine.

  • Marion Nestle, who seems to only give credit when credit is really due, has Cheers for USDA’s New Nutrition Standards. She concedes that the new standards “may not sound like much. But given what it has taken USDA to get to this point, the new standards must be seen as a major step forward.”
  • Jamie Oliver, the British chef who is very concerned about America's school lunches, said in a statement put out by his Food Revolution team the standards are a "step in the right direction," but he also said, "I do believe they could have - and should have - taken this opportunity to take even more radical steps to tackle the child obesity crisis."
  • The School Nutrition Association, in a press release, welcomed the new standards and said, “Through healthier choices and nutrition education, school meal programs have made tremendous strides to promote better food choices for America’s students. These national nutrition standards will help school nutrition professionals build on their successes.”
  • Michelle Obama made remarks about the new standards to students, faculty and parents at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va. She called on “parents and educators and food service workers across this country to embrace this effort on behalf of our children.” A full transcript of what she said can be found on Obama Foodorama.
  • MNN's family blogger Jenn Savedge wonders if kids will actually eat the new foods. I do, too. When the crust on the pizza (which can be counted as one of the vegetables served because of the tomato sauce on it) turns from white to whole grain, if care isn't taken to make sure the crust actually tastes really good, that pizza might end up in the trash along with the overcooked green beans.

What are you initial thoughts on the new USDA school lunch standards?

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