The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program play key roles in supporting the nutrition and health of schoolchildren in the United States by providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches each school day. While school meals must meet standards established in 1995, advances have been made in dietary guidance in the years since. At the request of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Institute of Medicine convened a committee to provide recommendations to revise standards and requirements so that school meals are more healthful.
In its 2009 report School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, the committee recommends that the USDA adopt standards for menu planning, including:
- Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories
- Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium
In 2007, these national programs provided lunch to more than 30.5 million children and breakfast to 10.1 million children. If the IOM’s recommended changes are implemented, they will result in school meals that not only appeal to students but also better meet students’ nutritional needs.