Buy or Bag?
What You Need To Know About Local Public School Lunches
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Each week of the school year, I let my girls mark off the days on the school lunch menu when they want to eat at school. They have their favorites, of course, and those days are highlighted.
I love those days because :
A. I don’t have to make a lunch, which cuts out a few minutes of madness in the morning and
B. there is usually something on the menu in addition to the main course that my children might try for the first time.
This year, all three of my girls will be in elementary school and I am looking forward to seeing who likes what and which menu items are to become “must haves.” One thing that does concern me is making sure my children are getting a healthy, balanced meal when they eat the school lunch. Are vegetables and fruits included? What about fat, sugar and sodium content?
I spoke with the directors of the school nutrition programs in Aiken, Columbia and Richmond counties as well as a spokesperson from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) to find out what constitutes a healthy lunch and if we, locally, are meeting our children’s nutritional needs.
According to the American Dietetic Association, schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are held to strict guidelines regarding the meals they serve to children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the agency that develops these guidelines. Currently, the meal pattern must include:
• 2 ounces of meat or meat alternative
• 2 servings of fruit or vegetables
• 8 servings of bread/grains over the week
• 1 cup of fluid, low-fat or non-fat milk
Debbi Beauvais, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the ADA, says that school lunches must also meet other nutrition guidelines such as limiting fat and saturated fats in meals, providing one-third of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein, calcium, iron and Vitamins A and C, meeting the dietary guidelines and serving in age-appropriate portion sizes with the right balance of protein, dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.