A new report from the Institute of Medicine titled “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” recommends updated nutritional standards for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Programs.

A release from IOM notes that the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program play key roles in supporting the nutrition and health of schoolchildren in the United States by providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches each school day. While school meals must meet standards established in 1995, ad­vances have been made in dietary guidance in the years since.

At the request of USDA, the OM convened a committee to provide recommenda­tions to revise standards and requirements so that school meals are more healthful.

In its 2009 report School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, the committee recommends that the USDA adopt standards for menu planning, including:

  • Increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Setting a minimum and maximum level of calories
  • Focusing more on reducing saturated fat and sodium

In 2007, these national programs provided lunch to more than 30.5 mil­lion children and breakfast to 10.1 million children. “If the IOM’s recommended changes are implemented,” the release states, “they will result in school meals that not only appeal to students but also better meet students’ nutritional needs.”

The full report is available online.

In response to the report, the School Nutrition Association issued a statement this week in support of stronger nutritional standards. The group notes, however, that school meal programs are underfunded and pressured by rising food costs. In addition to “building blocks,” the group says the program needs “mortar” in the form of better funding for school meals. The School Nutrition Association is a national, non-profit professional organization representing more than 55,000 members who provide meals to students across the country. Read their full statement on the IOM report.