New research from Bridging the Gap confirms that elementary school lunches have been increasing in health value consistently since 2006. And, since implementation of national nutrition standards during the 2012-2013 school year, many schools have improved their offerings even further.
Another takeaway from the report is that while following the guidelines for increased amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, 33 percent of schools were able to increase the variety of their entrees.
“Eating a variety of healthy foods is nutritionally important, and we are encouraged to see that so many schools have increased the type – as well as the amount – of healthy items they offer to students,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the study.
Lindsey cites the tireless work and commitment of food service professionals and school district personnel, as well as state departments of education, technical assistance agencies, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the driving force behind these improvements.
“They have all worked together to put these changes into action across the country, and the results speak for themselves,” Lindsey said. “These findings demonstrate the importance of continued coordinated efforts at the national, state, and local level to improve school nutrition.”
Lindsey explained that parents and the public can take comfort in knowing that students are being well-nourished in schools, and that schools are taking action to improve health and learning outcomes. School officials also have much to be pleased about, Lindsey explained, because their work to implement healthy practices during meals is paying off.
“These results show the importance of policy strategies for improving school nutrition, which have increased significantly in recent years thanks to the updated national nutrition standards put in place by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and additional actions at the state and local level to make the school day healthier,” said Lindsey. “This attention to school nutrition has been enormously important for supporting changes at the school level, and the results of our study show demonstrable improvement in school nutrition.“
While this study focused specifically on elementary school lunches, Lindsey’s collaborators at the University of Michigan have been collecting parallel data from middle and high schools. Those results also show similar improvements in terms of an increased availability of healthier items such as whole grains, as well as decreases in the availability of higher-fat products.
“Even though it has not always been easy in every school, these improvements to school nutrition are making a difference for millions of children across the country,” Lindsey said. “These results are great news for students, parents, and schools. We will all benefit from healthier students.”
To read the full report, please click here. To read the issue brief, please click here.