Students across the country will soon have access to healthier foods in their lunchrooms thanks to new school meal nutrition standards.

Although the standards are not everything that LiveWell Colorado hoped for, they certainly constitute a great improvement in making school lunch healthier and helping to bring our kids the nutrition they need and deserve.

Overall, these new standards mark the most significant nation-wide changes to school meal nutrition standards in more than 15 years. Taking effect next school year, the changes for lunch include the following:

  • Increasing fruit and vegetable servings and increasing the variety of vegetables;
  • Setting the first-ever standards for sodium, trans fat and whole grains;
  • Establishing maximum calorie limits; and 
  • Requiring all milk to be low-fat or fat-free (and flavored milk to be fat-free).

LiveWell Colorado believes these changes will help address our state’s growing childhood obesity epidemic – something that we can’t ignore. The most recent data indicate that one quarter of our children are overweight or obese. Further, Colorado has the second- fastest growing childhood obesity rate in the country, recently dropping from third leanest to 23rd in the country over a matter of a few years.

While obesity is a complex problem that belongs to all of us, our schools certainly play an important role in providing nutrition to our children. In Colorado, nearly 400,000 children participate in the national lunch program, with upwards of 40 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch. For many of these kids, school-provided meals represent the only source of balanced nutrition they will receive during the day. Therefore, it is crucial that our schools help provide our kids with the necessary nutrition for their growing minds and bodies.

While LiveWell Colorado is disappointed that some of Congress’ recent moves weakened these overall standards (including allowing pizza sauce to count as a vegetable), we do believe that we’re moving in the right direction.

In fact, many schools in Colorado are already offering healthier choices to their students. We commend these schools and encourage them to keep up their tremendous work.

We recognize that many schools are going to face challenges – particularly in the short-term – as they work on implementing these changes. Experiencing dwindling resources, school districts are often already challenged to feed a large student population with little funding. Serving food that is affordable, nutritious and appealing to students can become a difficult undertaking.

While meeting these standards will not be an easy feat for many schools, it can and must be done. These changes constitute a critical component in helping to reverse our state’s startling childhood obesity trends. Bringing better nutrition to our lunchrooms will improve the health of our kids, help improve students’ academic performance, lower childhood obesity rates, and decrease the amount Colorado spends treating diseases and conditions related to obesity – which was estimated at $1.637 billion in 2009.

LiveWell Colorado looks forward to working with and supporting the Colorado Department of Education, school districts, school personnel and others to implement these new guidelines and improve the grade for school meals across Colorado.