Recently, the country’s public-school menus received what many believe is a long overdue makeover. During the 2012 academic year, schools that participate in the USDA’s Child Nutrition Program have adapted new menus to follow the guidelines of first lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK).
In response to the high rates of childhood obesity, these standards prescribe more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy options. Student meals are also sized according to a student’s age and USDA-determined daily calorie needs. While some students in schools across the country are protesting these limits and food choices, local sources say the transition for Baltimore schools has been seamless.
In Baltimore County, students are acclimating to the new food options, says Karen Levenstein, director of the Baltimore County Public Schools’ office of food and nutrition.
“Youngsters found the program to be acceptable,” she says.
Holly Freishtat, food policy director at Baltimore City’s department of planning, says student participation at breakfast and lunch has increased since the HHFK was introduced. Nearly half of the city’s public schools offer a salad bar, which provides students with additional healthy choices. The current challenge of the school district, Freishtat says, is to have food manufacturers meet the new specifications.
“To meet the new guidelines, vendors must continue to improve their produce line,” she says.