As students across the nation returned to school this fall, they found healthy new choices in their school cafeterias.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 school lunch meal standards went into effect on July 1, 2012.  The HHFKA improves school meals by bringing them in line with the latest nutritional science and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Recent news stories regarding student complaints and parent concerns about these new meals highlight some of the challenges school food professionals in all states, including West Virginia, face as they introduce a healthier menu to their students.  Change takes time, effort, and education to garner support for these meals which offer students, at minimum, a milk, a fruit, a vegetable, a grain and a source of protein.  Students are encouraged to take all of these offerings and fill up on the larger servings of fruits and vegetables provided, since these fiber-rich foods help keep students satisfied through the day.

Schools in West Virginia are also involved in a number of initiatives to provide additional nutrition to students by serving National School Lunch Program afterschool snacks and/or afterschool snacks and suppers offered through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.  Farm to School programs are bringing fresh, local produce into school cafeterias and providing nutrition education opportunities for children across grade levels.  Many students also have the opportunity to broaden their eating horizons through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, in which students are offered a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost during the school day outside of the regular breakfast and lunch meal service.

In an effort to provide students with new, healthier menu choices that are palatable to students, school food service personnel continue to receive training through the Office of Child Nutrition on “cooking from scratch”.  OCN staff members are also visiting schools to share in student meals, offer encouragement, technical assistance and support to both cooks and students during this transition. (Visit the WVDE website to see photos of some of those meals under “School Lunch Success”.)

As our nation struggles with rising rates of diet-related illnesses, it is critical that students accept and consume these healthier menu options.  It is also critical that each of us maintains support for school meal programs that work diligently to promote healthier lifestyles for our children.  These new nutrition standards are particularly important for children who rely on free or reduced price meals, and may have limited access to healthy, affordable foods and well-balanced meals in their communities.

For additional information on the new HHFKA meal standards, contact Linda St. Clair at lsstclai@access.k12.wv.us or 304-558-3396.