USDA study shows school meal improvements

Written by: Stephanie Perez-Carrillo
Date Posted: May 24, 2019

The first ever comprehensive study of school meal programs since the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented finds that the nutritional quality of school meals has improved over time, and more kids are participating in school food programs that offer healthier meals. These findings are significant because they come just three months after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the official rollback of school nutrition guidelines. The Children’s Campaign was strongly opposed to these changes and submitted comments in opposition last year.

The report examines the quality of meals provided through federal child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, after positive changes to the sodium, milk and whole grain targets were instituted with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010.

The bill’s passage was significant because it gave schools the opportunity for the first time in more than 30 years to base school breakfast and lunch programs on “established science-based” nutrition standards from the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, otherwise known as the Institute of Medicine. Nationwide, districts were given several years to comply with the new targets, meaning kids would have access to foods with less sodium, more whole grains and limited access to sugary low-fat flavored milk.

Why does this all matter? The findings from the report prove that the changes made through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act were good for kids. Districts were able to make the required changes, kids ate healthier food, and food waste remained largely unchanged. The study also found that giving kids the option to choose the food and the timing of lunch periods helped to reduce waste.

Given these findings, the recently announced changes to the nutrition guidelines was unnecessary and will roll back the progress that we have made as a state and a country in improving the nutritional quality of school food that our kids eat.

Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

About Stephanie Perez-Carrillo

Stephanie works as a Policy Analyst for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to joining the Children’s Campaign, she worked as a Public Policy Fellow at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado – where she found her love and passion for policy work. Before diving into the policy world, Stephanie served as a Teach for America Corps Member in South Carolina, teaching high school and middle school math. Early on while obtaining her degree in Marketing from Florida International University, she worked in health care as a Patient Advocate and Unit Secretary. When she is not working, you can typically find her at a coffee shop, hanging out with friends, or engaging in some type of outdoor activity.