Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Rudd Radar

Benefits of the National School Lunch Program

August 29, 2013

The National School Lunch Program provides healthy meals to millions of children each day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated the program last year with significant improvements, including adding more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while reducing sodium, saturated fat, and excess calories.

Criticism has surfaced from students, teachers, and government representatives and just recently a report by the Associated Press has claimed that some schools around the country are dropping out of the program because students are not eating the meals and schools are losing money 

“Every time a significant public health change occurs – like banning smoking from restaurants – some celebrate and others complain.  These regulations are designed to help promote real changes in students' diets – and it is going to take time to adjust," said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director, who also wrote a blog post on The Huffington Post.  "Dropping out of the program is like dropping out of school because you have a tough teacher who is pushing you to a new level of achievement.  Yes, it’s challenge, but students and food service directors need to work together to create winning recipes."

 “The new standards are one of the most important advances in nutrition in decades and should be supported, not undermined,” said Kathryn Henderson, PhD, Rudd Center Director of School and Community Initiatives. “Absent from media coverage on this issue are the significant benefits afforded to children by the improved standards.”

“I think they hear about one or two instances of school districts opting out of the program then they ignore the 99 percent of the districts that are sticking with it.” Said Trish Molloy, President of the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut in response to the AP article

“For some of the schools opting out is probably an economic issue rather than an issue with the new standards. When the economy turned we saw a decrease in sales, and that was before the new guidelines were in place. For most schools, the standards are either welcomed or accepted because they’re workable.”

 The new regulations are based on science and are part of our nation’s response to the problem of poor nutrition among youth.  Research has shown that youth need to consume more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sodium, saturated fat, and excess sugar and calories. These regulations are an important step on the path to a healthier generation.

Parents, teachers, and administrators can take the following steps to ensure the standards are well received by all.

1. Help students to either eat breakfast at home or participate in the school breakfast program.

2. Promote the whole grains, fruit, and vegetables in students’ lunches. These foods are good sources of fiber, which leads to feeling full.

3. Arrange a way for students and food service staff to communicate about how different dishes taste and involve students in designing lunches.

4. Join your school wellness committee and involve the committee in the discussion. Every school district that participates in the lunch program has a group of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and food service staff that addresses policies related to nutrition and physical activity.