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Serving up new school lunch requirements

Rockdale County Public Schools student have been seeing changes to the lunch offerings and will see slightly increasing school lunch prices by 15 cents next year, as required by new regulations from the USDA. These changes aim to make school lunches healthier, and instill healthier habits in America's students.

The new legislation, part of the Let's Move! Campaign championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and signed into law by President Obama, requires students receive healthier meals containing fruits, vegetables, including dark green, red/orange, beans/pea/legumes, and starchy vegetables weekly, a meat or meat alternate, grain items that contain over 50 percent whole grain, and liquid milk that is either fat free, or low fat unflavored.

According to RCPS food services director Peggy Lawrence, most of these changes have already been implemented in Rockdale's schools so students shouldn't notice many changes next year. The most major change to RCPS's menus will be making all breads and grain foods "whole grain rich," meaning they contain at least 50 percent whole grains.

Lawrence said, "The biggest change will be that all of the breads and grains we serve will be whole grain rich. We have been at 50 percent for the last two years. We have already transitioned most every product, so I do not anticipate our students noticing much difference."

"We have put even more emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, and a wider variety of them. All milk is fat free or low fat. We have always done lots of from-scratch cooking and baking, which allows us more flexibility to make changes easily and on our own terms, rather than waiting on a manufacturer to implement the new requirements," Lawrence added.

In addition to these requirements, school lunches must contain between 550-650 calories for elementary school students (grades k-5), 600-700 calories for middle school students (grades 6-8) and 750-850 calories for high school students (grades 9-12). Furthermore, lunches must contain less than 1230 mg of sodium for elementary schoolers, less than 1360 mg of sodium for middle schoolers, and less than 1420 mg of sodium for high schoolers, with guidelines in place to reduce these limits further in the coming years.

All school lunches must get less than 10 percent of their total calories from saturated fat, and contain no added trans fat.

For example, whereas an elementary school lunch may have included cheese pizza with canned pineapple, tater tots, and low fat chocolate milk, a new elementary school lunch may include a whole wheat cheese pizza slice, baked sweet potato fries, raw grape tomatoes, applesauce, low fat milk, and low fat ranch dip.

These changes will also include a slight increase in meal prices for middle and high school students. Meals will now cost $2.25, a 15 cent increase from $2.10.

These changes come at a time when approximately 12.5 million children and youth in America are obese, according to the CDC.