The New School Lunch: Fruits, Veggies & Whole Grains

New this year, schools will offer fruits and vegetables with every school lunch.

The USDA has implemented new requirements for lunch for the first time in 15 years, thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. New regulations for breakfast will be phased in starting July 2013. The updated nutrition standards are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine in response to concerns over childhood obesity. Kids will see more fruit/veggies and whole grains as well as low fat or fat free choices.

What’s New In Our Kid’s School Lunches?

Fruits and vegetables are considered separate components and each must be offered daily in increased quantity. The next school year will see increases in the fruit offering at breakfast. Juice (100 percent) can fulfill no more than half of the weekly fruit requirement. Vegetables are divided into subgroups (red/orange, dark green, beans /peas, starchy or other) with weekly requirements. Half of grains offered during the school week must be whole grain, starting July 2014 all grains must meet this criteria.

There are daily minimum requirements with weekly ranges on grains and meat/meat alternatives. Milk is offered in non-fat (flavored or unflavored) or low-fat (unflavored only). There are also new guidelines regarding reductions in calories, sodium and saturated fat specific to grade (elementary, middle or high school). Zero grams of trans fat per serving are allowed for all age groups. Vending machines must follow the guidelines as well.

Do Our Kids Like These New Lunches?

My own nine year old veg loving daughter noticed the changes last year. It has been a mixed reaction. The broccoli with cheese dish grew on her. The Caesar salad was not so good, the chicken on it looked “gross.” My 6 year old son prefers “speedy lunch,” PB & J or cheese sandwich with yogurt and carrots.

The schools obviously still have some some tweaking to do but its a good start. There are still favorites found on the menu like chicken nuggets, pizza and macaroni and cheese. It looks like a typical school lunch. Lunch has come a long way from the unidentifiable meat substance on a bun that I remember! Also a step up from last year when lunch consisted of chicken fries and chocolate milk.

While kids may object first, if you consistently offer healthier choices, they will try them and maybe even like them. It is a first step in starting a dialogue with our children about nutrition.

What do you think of the new standards? Do they go too far or not far enough? Do you prefer to pack your child’s lunch?

About Amanda

Hi! I'm Amanda. I am a SAHM to 3 kiddos (ages 9, 6 and 4). Love to learn and share ways to feed my family real food on a real world budget.


  1. I’m pleased with the new standards. Like you said, the kids may not like it at first but they will get used to it. Personally I would not be disappointed it they went a little farther in the healthy direction. So many of the kids these days don’t have good nutrition at home so having these healthier guidelines at school will help that.

  2. Great insight into this topic. Since my girls are only in preschool they bring their food, but this is good to know for the future!

  3. I really wish they would do away with all of the other unhealthy stuff on the menu like hot dogs and the chicken nuggets. And honestly while my kids will eat all of the healthy options they are offering on the lunch menu now at home, they are hating it at school. My daughter had the rice one day and she said it wasn’t cooked all the way. The french fries she says are soggy now which is baffling because they are baked. So I guess they aren’t getting cooked long enough. They don’t mind the salad. And then my oldest daughter in middle school says by the time she gets to have lunch they don’t even have enough sandwiches for her lunch group. A sandwich! Not even something that has to be prepared ahead of time and she can’t get a turkey sandwich. I’m glad they are taking these steps and of course even 100% juice shouldn’t be part of any child’s diet as it’s just not healthy on so many levels. It’s a very small step in the right direction. It always ticked me off that things like snack sales and other food fundraisers had to be nixed because of healthy guidelines, but then on the lunch menu they had option A hot dog and option B mozzarella sticks. That’s an appetizer not a meal. So that can be served to our kids, but they can’t have a candy fundraiser? That makes a lot of sense.

  4. I love seeing all the veggies and fruits on the school menus, but I still think they are staying with the “safe” ones for now. Apples, green beans, corn, etc. seem to be the predominant items on the menu, and the whole grains at our school come in the form of the rolls. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I do laugh at my daughter who doesn’t like the baked potato alternative for lunches some days. But give her broccoli and she is a happy camper! Now – if only the kids had more than 20 minutes to eat their lunch! But that’s a battle for another day.

  5. Each small step towards a healthier meal at school is a step in introducing kids to foods many will never experience at home. This is long overdue, but at least it’s making an appearance.

  6. I love that they’re trying to encourage children to eat healthier by providing these guidelines….now if they could just provide schools with some great ways to prepare these foods in a fresh and inviting way that will get the kids to actually EAT them-THAT would be progress!! We need more of Jamie Oliver!

  7. My daughter agrees we need more Jamie Oliver! LOL This is a just a baby step.

  8. I like that they are providing healthier choices now. At the same time, I’m hoping they hold on to the classics like nuggets and pizza. My son is a picky eater like me. While I hope he develops a taste for healthier food. I want him to have a choice of something he WILL eat. I don’t like the thought of him being hungry at school cause all he had at lunch was his milk.

  9. I guess baby steps are better than nothing. I’m learning now that there are apparently a lot of kids who don’t get vegetables or very much fruit at home and that school is pretty much their only access to recognizable plant foods.

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