Under new U.S. Department of Agriculture standards announced on Wednesday to improve child health and reduce childhood obesity, millions of American students will be given more fruit and vegetables for their lunch meals.
This is the first overhaul of the school lunch program in over 15 years. The changes will affect the close to 32 million children that eat lunch at school.
"Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told MSNBC. "When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition they need to be healthy, active and ready to face the future – today we take an important step towards that goal."
Under the new regulations, which will be phased in over the next three years beginning in the fall, schools will be required to provide fruits and vegetables to children every day. They must also increase the amount of whole-grain foods and reduce the fats and sodium in the provided lunches.
Children will only be offered low-fat or fat-free milk. According to the USDA under secretary for food, Kevin Concannon, lunches must also take into account portion sizes to ensure children receive the appropriate calories for their age.
"We strongly support the regulations," Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the Maryland-based School Nutrition Association, told MSNBC. "The new nutrition standards for school meals are great news for kids."
The new regulations, led by First Lady Michelle Obama as a part of her Let's Move! campaign, was signed into law last year by President Obama as a part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," Michelle Obama has said of her campaign. "And when we're putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent of American children and teenagers are obese.
Menus will still include some favorites like pizza and french fries, but with some alterations. Rather than plain cheese pizza, for example, students will be offered whole-wheat cheese pizza. It is now up to the children to participate in the healthy eating initiative.
"We know if it's not delicious, kids aren't going to eat it," White House Chef Sam Kass said, MSNBC reported. Kass added that thousands of schools have already begun implementing the changes and their cooks are striving to design meals that are more appealing to students.
"We're working very hard on that," Kass said.
Schools will be given an additional six cents per meal in federal funding to support the changes.