School Lunches Will Soon be Healthier

School lunches are getting a gourmet makeover, thanks to new federal legislation aimed at curbing the growing childhood obesity trend.

With the number of obese children and teens on the rise, the demand for healthier food options in the lunch room has received a lot of attention in recent years. First lady Michelle Obama has even been in on the action, starting the “Chefs Move to Schools” program in June that called on the help of hundreds of chefs nationwide to improve the nutritional standards for meals served in public schools.

Now the movement has gained even more momentum with last week’s passage by the Senate of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which will provide an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to federal childhood nutrition programs. The money will help to equip cafeteria workers with more training to provide healthier meals and will put greater focus on school wellness policies and physical activity.

The First Lady, a strong proponent of school lunch reform as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat childhood obesity, was behind the bill one hundred percent. She even penned an op-ed published in The Washington Post earlier this month. In the essay she urged Congress to pass the bill that will require more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less salt and fat in school lunch menus.

The new standards will not remove popular menu items, like pizza and hamburgers, from school lunches but will require schools to find ways to make them healthier. Ultimately, the decision of what food will be sold and what ingredients will be used is left up to the Agriculture Department. The bill will eventually assist in removing junk food and high calorie drinks from school vending machines.

A similar bill is pending in the House after committee approval last month.