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Cafeteria conscious

Schools monitor nutrition standards as more kids depend on lunch line

With millions of U.S. children getting half their weekday calories from school lunch and breakfast programs, Washington state school nutrition officials who gathered this week in Spokane say it’s key to make those meals as healthy as possible.

Federal legislation that passed the U.S. Senate Thursday should help. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 aims to increase reimbursements to school systems, provide more training on how to serve healthier meals, and improve school wellness policies on nutrition and physical activity, according to the White House.

Although school food programs have evolved over the years, a nutritional analysis of an average week of school lunches in 1960 and 2010 shows a less dramatic change than one might think. The difference, per meal: about 100 fewer calories, 14 fewer grams of fat and half the saturated fat today, according to Spokane Public Schools’ nutrition services department.

The comparison of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food guidelines from the two eras also shows no sharp change, other than shifting from white flour and sugar products to more whole grains and dietary fiber, and less sugar and sodium. The servings of each food group remain basically the same.

First lady Michelle Obama, through her campaign “Let’s Move,” has been the impetus behind the bill passed Thursday. Her primary goal is to reduce childhood obesity, which has quadrupled in children ages 6 to 19 in the past 50 years, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The obesity rate in that age group was about 5 percent in 1963 and nearly 20 percent in 2008.

“Nutritionally, our meals are better than they used to be, but we are dealing with micronutrients, such as vitamin C and selenium, which are important,” said Doug Wordell, Spokane Public Schools’ director of nutrition services. “But we are calorie rich. We have an excess of choices. And there is a lot less movement. All the research will say you need to move every day.”