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IOM Says Boost Fruits and Veggies in School Meals

IOM Says Boost Fruits and Veggies in School Meals

In the News

October 25, 2009

Fruit and vegetable offerings in school meals should be increased, says the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in a recent report entitledSchool Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children. The evaluation comes at a time when plans to introduce the Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009 in Congress are on the horizon.

Designed to bring school meals in line with the latest USDA Dietary Guidelines, the report recommends increasing fruit offerings at school breakfast by 1 cup per day for all students, increasing the amount of fruit offered in school lunch to 1 cup per day for students in grades 9 to 12, and increasing the amount of vegetables offered in school lunch to ¾ cup per day for grades K through 8 and to 1 cup per day for grades 9 to 12. 

The IOM additionally recommends requiring students to take at least one serving of fruit at breakfast and at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at lunch, setting a minimum and maximum level of calories and focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium.

Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, Vice President of Nutrition and Health for the United Fresh Produce Asssociation, says that improving school meals is even more important than ever, especially in the wake of the CDC’s recent report revealing that American kids aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables. She says that change is long overdue.

“The IOM’s recommendations are everything that we worked for,” says DiSogra. “More than 30 million students who eat school lunch every day will receive significantly more fruits and vegetables, as will the 10 million students who eat school breakfasts.”

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) also welcomes the recommendations, and calls on Congress to provide school nutrition programs with the financial support necessary to fund these needed changes. Indeed, the IOM report acknowledges that improving the nutrition value of school meals by increasing the serving of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will likely increase meal costs. Specifically, breakfast prices will rise by 25% and lunch prices by 9%.

The price of school lunches has steadily gone up over the years and student participation in free or reduced price meal programs has simultaneously gone up across all grade levels. The average price of a full-paid lunch today is $1.87 for elementary school students versus $1.54 in 2005 and $1.66 in 2007. Under the proposed IOM guidelines, a full-paid lunch could cost as much as $2.03.

“The Institute of Medicine’s recommendations offer schools critical guidance for ongoing efforts to enhance the nutrition of school meals,” said School Nutrition Association President Dora Rivas. “However, school nutrition programs, long under-funded and pressured by rising costs, will need more than just ‘Building Blocks’ to improve on our success. Congress needs to provide the mortar through higher federal reimbursement rates for school meals.”

United Fresh is currently working on Capitol Hill to build broad bipartisan support for strengthening fruit and vegetable policies in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. Along with other public health groups, they are encouraging USDA to update school meal nutrition standards within the next 24 months. 

“We are one step closer to establishing school lunch and breakfast as models of good nutrition,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “Now we look to USDA and Congress to ensure that the recommendations made by the IOM are fully realized with proper funding and implementation in 100,000 schools nationwide.” 

Rivas adds, “School nutrition programs offer children well-balanced, healthy meals, but just like our students, we are constantly working to improve ourselves.”