In light of the new USDA school lunch guidelines, which went into effect this school year, many parents are wondering if their kids, especially those who are active on the family farm and in after school athletics, are getting enough to eat. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Associate Director of Food & Nutrition Outreach Shelley Johnson said that with the new guidelines in place, it’s a good time for parents to have a conversation with their kids about the importance of choosing healthy, nutritious nutrient-dense foods, such as beef, as part of a healthy diet.

“By being part of this dialogue we can help the next generation better understand the importance of choosing healthy foods at home or at school,” Johnson said.

According to the USDA guidelines, the amount of meat/meat alternate required as part of the new school lunch plans are almost identical to previous requirements, but there are now maximum limits. The new guidelines provide the basic nutritional needs for the average American student and outline specific calorie ranges and amounts of food for each age and grade group. However, Johnson said that not all kids are the same and don’t have the same nutrition needs.

“Those kids who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs. Protein-rich foods like lean beef and low/non-fat dairy products can help kids feel satisfied,” she said, adding that one 3 oz. serving of lean beef provides half the protein needed to meet dietary guidelines. “If kids are hungry after lunch, parents may want to pack a protein-rich snack or pack lunches if possible.”

USDA has asked for feedback about the guidelines and has created a website with more information. Johnson stressed the importance of parents letting USDA know if they have questions or concerns about the new standards.