WASHINGTON – Pumping up nutrition for children will come at a cost for school cafeterias nationwide,according to a report issued Tuesday.
The National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine agreed it will be difficult for schools to follow its new health recommendations on a tight budget.
“Cost is an issue,” said Dr. Virginia Stallings,chairwoman of the institute's school meal panel. Stallings is director of the nutrition center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
The panel released recommendations that would bring school meals in line with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans,compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.
Recommendations include increasing servings of multigrain bread,fruit and vegetables and reducing sodium levels. The panel also suggests offering only 1 percent and skim milk.
However,schools will have to stretch their pennies even further to cover expenses to meet the nutrition updates,which include not only the food but also new equipment – such as refrigerators to store more fresh food and steamers to cook it in – and staff training.
“A lot of schools are taking steps in these directions,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner,media relations director for the School Nutrition Association. “These recommendations call for further increased amounts of fruits and vegetables served,and there's a cost to that.”
The government needs to provide higher reimbursement rates for free and reduced-price lunches at schools so nutrition can be a priority,Pratt-Heavner said.
The current federal reimbursement for a free meal is $2.68,Pratt-Heavner said. Research conducted by the association found that it costs $2.92 to prepare each of those meals.
“That leaves the schools with a big job to do,” she said.
Congress is expected to vote on reimbursement prices when it reviews the Child Nutrition Act,which could happen as soon as spring.
The frail economy has attracted an additional 800,000 students to the 30.5 million children who received free or reduced-price lunches last year,which has strained school cafeteria budgets.
Many schools are making up for this by laying off cafeteria staff,dipping into savings or raising prices for individual items,according to a School Nutrition Association report.
USDA commissioned the Institute of Medicine two years ago to develop recommendations in line with the 2005 dietary guidelines.
Previous school meal requirements were based on guidelines from 1995 and 1989.
Aside from upping fruits and vegetables and lowering sodium and fat,the panel said there should be a calorie cap on school breakfasts and lunches. For example,the report said the cap for school lunches should be 650 calories for grade school,700 for middle school and 850 for high school.
Federal law requires that breakfast contain at least 25 percent of a child's daily caloric needs,and lunch at least 33 percent.
The panel recommended lower levels,an average of 21.5 percent of daily calories at breakfast and 32 percent at lunch.
“Our goal is to increase key food groups to foster lifelong healthy eating habits,” Stallings said.