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Institute of Medicine Reports that Better Nutrition is needed in Schools

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In their report to the government this month, the Institute of Medicine had several pointers to raise the standards of school lunches and breakfasts. Calorie limits and an increase in fresh fruit, veggies and whole grains are all required according to the report. The Institute is part of the National Academies and is charted by congress to advise the government.

Federal standards for free school meals are lacking in several ways. Obesity levels are increasing, yet while a minimum standard of calories is required in school lunches there is no calorie limit set. Virginia Stallings, who chaired the report, wrote, "Today, overweight children outnumber undernourished children, and childhood obesity is often referred to as an epidemic in both the medical and community settings.”

The report states that calorie levels should be no more than 500 to 600 calories for breakfast and no more than 650 to 850 calories for lunch.

Where those calories come from is important for children’s nutritional needs too. Based on the Food Pyramid the governments dietary guidelines, updated in 2005, call for a lot more fruit, vegetables and whole grains than they are currently getting.

Under the proposed standards children should be allowed to turn down certain things but should be required to have a minimum number of these healthy foods on their plates.

Suggested offerings were:

7-10 servings of grains for breakfast and 9-13 for lunch. Oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat bread were suggested. While it seems our children are getting their grains they are often too refined and there needs to be an increase in the “whole” grain products offered.

1 1/4 to 2 ½ servings of fresh vegetables for lunch. These should include a variety of green and orange veggies and legumes.

At least five servings of fruit for breakfast and 2 ½ to 5 servings for lunch. It is suggested that no more than half of those servings should be in the form of juice.

The report also suggests that servings and calorie levels be adjusted according to the child’s grade.

While the recommendations make sense there is no denying that these improvements in nutrition would come at a great cost. Lunch costs could rise by 4 per cent and breakfast costs could leap up by 20 per cent. Many school meal programs are already struggling to reach the current requirements. The School Nutrition Association are pressuring congress to increase spending on school lunch and breakfast programs. The amount received through government funding often barely covers, and often fails to cover the cost of meals at the moment. Association president Dora Rivers said in a statement that federal dollars "simply do not keep pace with rising costs on everything from food and labor to napkins and spoons.” The Institute of Medicine agrees that reimbursement needs to be increased to cover the costs of providing a better diet to the nation’s children.

The Obama administration will be reviewing the report as it writes up new rules for school meals.