School is back in session and this month’s Nutrition Connection summarizes the latest changes to the National School Lunch Program and provides tips for the parent who packs up a brown bag.

National School Lunch: Health Makeover

Last year, since the first time in the 1990’s, the school lunch program got a health makeover to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity.

Read on to see what changes your school-aged child should expect if they eat&nbspin the school cafeteria:

PORTION SIZE:In the past, schools have been required to meet aminimumcalorie level for meals based on a child’s age. The changes now require schools to stay below a maximum amount of calories, based on their age. Here are the calorie ranges based on grade level:


K-5: 550-650 calories 6-8: 600-700 calories 9-12: 750-850 calories

GRAINS: Following suit with the Dietary Guidelines,&nbspat least 1/2 of the grains offered must be whole-grain rich. Expect to see whole grain pizza crusts and burgers served on whole-wheat buns!

VEGETABLES & FRUITS:There are two times as many fruits and vegetables offered, and schools now pay attention to color! Vegetables rich in colors, such as dark green and red/orange and varieties of beans and starches must be presented on a weekly basis.

MILK: In the past, a child could choose from either skim, 2%, or whole milk. This year, schools will only include skim or 1%. Flavored milks, such as chocolate, will be available, but they must be skim.

SODIUM:There will be no changes to sodium requirements this year, but beginning in the next school year and the following years, reductions in sodium will be required and are based on the age of the child. As example, the sodium in lunch for a K-5th grade child will be limited to 1230 mg (2013-14), 935mg (2014-15), and 640 mg (2015-16) in upcoming school years.

FAT:The requirement for saturated fat remains the same and can make up no more than 10% of the meal’s calories. Trans fats, on the other hand must be limited to 0 grams per serving.

The Brown Bag

If you are a parent who will be packing a lunch 5x a week for 9 months, you might need some new ideas! Here are 15 healthy ideas from Web MD:15 Fresh Lunch Ideas,and for ideas to inject some fun into your kid’s brown bag check out this:STL Moms Segment.

Packing a balanced lunch takes a bit of planning ahead, and if you include your child in the process, you improve the odds that his/her lunch doesn’t get traded! In addition, many kids have a short amount of time to eat. Pack a lunch that can be eaten quickly, i.e.: apple slices versus unpeeled orange. As you create your grocery list, think about small simple changes that can transform an old standby into something fresh and exciting that your kiddos will look forward to!

Here are some examples!

Old Lunch                                                      Parent Makeover

Peanut butter & Jelly on White Bread                     Peanut butter & banana in a whole-wheat wrap

Lunch-able: Pizza style                                        Whole wheat english muffin topped with marinara sauce,                                                                                 light mozzarella cheese & last night’s grilled chicken

Side of pretzels/goldfish                                     Carrot sticks with light ranch or hummus

Bag of chips                                                     Cut up fruit with peanut butter dip (see below)

Chocolate chip cookies                                       Chocolate pudding with sliced bananas

Capri Sun                                                        1% chocolate milk

Peanut butter and Yogurt Dip


1⁄2 cup peanut butter (avoid low-fat, it just has more sugar!) 1⁄2 cup non or low-fat vanilla Greek or regular yogurt
1 Tbsp. honey


Combine all ingredients, and dip away!

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.