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School cafeterias work to meet USDA guidelines

PHOENIX — Your kid’s school lunch could be more healthy this year.

The USDA has new guidelines on the amount of grains, meat, vegetables and other things in school lunches. Every kid has to have fruit on the lunch tray, and there are calorie limits depending on the grade level.

“They’re basically looking at increasing what sometimes is termed good carbohydrates. Those are the ones found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables,” said Kathy Glindmeier, head of nutrition for the Paradise Valley Unified School District. “They’re also looking at sodium. The more you eat it, the more you want it. That is going to be cut back incrementally.”

Glindmeier said her district worked through the summer on menus that meet the guidelines. Mesa Unified School District nutritionist Loretto Zullo said the same was true there. “We worked on recipe development, product testing, and all kinds of things to find new items that meet these ranges that have been provided to us that we have to meet,” said Zullo.

So far, it looks like the kids are okay with what’s being put on their plate. “We haven’t really noticed a lot of resistance from the kids. They seem to be accepting of the changes,” said Glindmeier.

“If you go to the grocery store, you’ll see a lot more whole grain products. I think the kids are getting some exposure in the home, so that has transferred into the school lunch program.”

A look at what the new guidelines require, according to the School Nutrition Association:


Grades K-5: 8 to 9 servings per week

Grades 6-8: 8 to 10 servings per week

Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 servings per week

Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain.

Meats/Meat alternatives:

Grades K-5: 8 to 10 ounces per week

Grades 6-8: 9 to 10 ounces per week

Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 ounces per week

Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases.


Grades K-12: 1 cup per day

Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options are allowable.


Grades K-8: One-half cup per day

Grades 9-12: One cup per day

Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice.


Grades K-8: Three-quarters cup per day

Grades 9-12: One cup per day

Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others.


By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed:

Grades K-5: 640 milligrams

Grades 6-8: 710 milligrams

Grades 9-12: 740 milligrams

A timetable sets targets for further reducing sodium levels by 2022.


No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No trans-fat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.

Total calories:

Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day

Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day

Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day

Calories can be averaged over the week.

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