Florida has gone to a lot of trouble to follow federal guidelines for a healthy mix of protein, produce, grains and dairy in school lunches.
Local districts follow requirements for proper portions, serving sizes and limits on fat intake — without paying much attention to calories.
The restrictions used to be that less than 30 percent of calories were from fat.
Those restrictions are no longer there, according to Rick Parks, lead dietitian with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
But that doesn’t mean school veggies are being doctored with butter.
Parks says that’s not really feasible under the restrictions for fat intake.
“They’re looking at the type of fat,” Parks said. “Trans fat and saturated fat are the main sources right now that they’re looking at, and it has to be less than 10 percent from saturated fat and zero grams from added trans fat.”
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering districts more resources designed to count the calories in school meals.
School nutrition standards were updated in response to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon sent a letter early this month to state and regional directors of child nutrition programs. He said the updated requirements allow for a range of calories.
“The new meal patterns are based on age appropriate nutrition and physical activity habits of the average student,” he wrote. “Some students were receiving nearly double the recommended amount of calories at lunch.”
Recently, high school students have complained that the new dietary requirements mean less food. Athletes say they have to buy two lunches to get the calories they need for the afternoon.
Under new USDA guidelines, those hungry athletes may soon have access to healthy after-school snacks.
More information on new meal patterns in Florida schools can be found here.