New USDA standards set for school lunches

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY:  The USDA has a new set of standards that prohibit foods with high fat and sugar content in school cafeterias. 

Posted: June 28, 2013

school lunches oral care

Do you ever worry about the food that your children are eating while at school? Lunchrooms are often filled with greasy pizza, French fries, candy bars and cookies - quite the lethal combination. According to CNN, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new nutritional standard called "Smart Snacks in School," which will require schools to offer healthier options. This is noted as the first nutritional overhaul in the education sector in more than 30 years. Not only will this movement help to conquer the obesity problem in the U.S., but kids' oral health may also benefit from this healthier boost.

By July 1, 2014, all schools must meet the regulations set by the USDA, meaning they would be in effect for the 2014-2015 school year. Both food and beverages will have set limits that prohibit unhealthy ingredients. Where potato chips and candy bars once were available with the push of a few buttons, new rules will ensure that healthier snacks and low-fat treats are on-hand.

Schools will be required to offer foods with at least 50 percent whole grains, or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient. Foods will also be permitted if they contain at least ¼-cup fruit and/or vegetables. Additionally, no sports drinks or other beverages with a high concentration of sugar will be allowed. No-calorie flavored waters, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice and low-fat and fat-free milk will be readily available. The regulations will help decrease the amount of issues seen with children's oral health because high fat and sugar promotes tooth decay and gum disease.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts." 

The rules are also a result of the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act that was implemented in lunchrooms during 2012. According to the USDA, the regulations are being phased into schools over a three-year period in part of a complete overhaul of meals served to youth.

What about bagged lunches?
While schools can control what they serve to children, they are not prohibiting the same items from being brought into the cafeteria from home. However, you may want to consider similar healthy options when packing your kid's lunch. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 17 percent of children and adolescents suffer from obesity. Additionally, high fat and sugar-filled foods can increase your child's risk of needing cavity treatments.

The all-vegetarian move
For some children in the New York borough of Queens, their lunch menu is filled with items like tofu, black bean quesadillas and rice. Active Learning Elementary School made the move to offer all-vegetarian items five days a week to roughly 400 students between pre-Kindergarten and third grade. While the school began to hone in on more vegetarian offerings three years ago, meat was offered two days a week.

Children at the school have access to a nutritional salad bar with fresh veggies that will help to promote their overall health. Additionally, consuming vegetables, fruits and other low-calorie items will help kids keep oral issues at bay. Kids are often prone to need cavity treatments due to the amount of sugar and starch they consume, but a vegetable-rich diet promotes the reduction of bacteria in the mouth and healthy gums.

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