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If you have children in school or child care, chances are they eat at least one meal a day there. Maybe breakfast, lunch and a snack—possibly dinner too! Were you aware that there are federal regulations that specify the nutritional content of your children's meals?

School lunches must meet meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Child care meals also follow similar guidelines. According to the Federal Food and Nutrition Service, the current meal pattern increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains in the school menu. The meal pattern's dietary specifications set specific calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. They are reducing the amount of sodium in these meals. While school lunches must meet Federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

Locally, we have exciting things going on. According to the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, "Omaha Public Schools and Westside Community Schools have served local foods in recent years and have seen an overwhelmingly positive response from administration, students and parents – and are therefore expanding efforts this school year. Millard Public Schools will be introducing local foods for the first time this fall." Many private schools are also offering local foods. 

Many local schools are also participating in a program called Fuel Up to Play 60 to increase the types of healthy foods offered and encourage 60 minutes of exercise per day. Schools can apply for funding and receive guidance to change menus to meet guidelines while involving the school staff and students. It is a terrific program, and if your school is not involved, contact your principal to check into it and join!

There is also a Facebook page and website titled School Meals that Rock! This site promotes meals that are not only nutritious but incredibly tasty! Send a picture of your meal to Dayle Hayes, who runs the web page—maybe your school will be the next "School Meal that Rocks!"

This fall, take a day to have lunch with your child, and see for yourself how terrific and healthy these meals are!  You will be pleasantly surprised!  

Cindy Brison MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Cindy Brison has worked in the nutrition field since 1989. She has a  Master of Science degree in Community Nutrition and a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. Cindy is a mother of three and specializes in teaching food safety, gardening, cooking, and health and wellness classes to childcare providers, youth groups, and adults. Learn more about Cindy and the other UNL Extension nutrition experts at NutritionKnowHow.org. ...

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Categories: nutrition,