CHICAGO — The American Dietetic Association welcomes a report issued Wednesday, October 21, by the Institute of Medicine encouraging federal school meal programs to adopt standards that increase the nutrition content and limit the calories in meals served to schoolchildren.
“The IOM’s positive and progressive recommendations are very much in keeping with those that the American Dietetic Association has been making for a number of years to improve school meal quality,” said registered dietitian and ADA Spokesperson Malena Perdomo. “This report represents a large step toward achieving healthier-eating goals for our children in schools.”
The IOM report, School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, offers specific recommendations for the types and amounts of foods that should be made available to children through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. ADA also supports the IOM’s recommendation that it is imperative the U.S. Department of Agriculture fund research to monitor measurable outcomes of the school meal programs.
“The IOM recommendations, and school breakfast and lunch programs in general, are just one component of what should be a comprehensive school wellness program. Students have other food sources at school, and the nutritional standards for those foods must be updated to ensure students receive consistent messages at school about food and nutrition,” Perdomo said.
Perdomo said ADA strongly agrees with the IOM’s recommendations, including:
- More strongly align school meals with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Set standards for meal planning
- Increase the amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Limit sodium and saturated fat
- Reduce the content of sodium and trans fat
- Ensure milk is low-fat or nonfat.
“The American Dietetic Association is committed to strengthening federal nutrition programs and focusing child nutrition reauthorization efforts on enhancing nutrition education, improving environments conducive to healthy food and beverage choices and developing a comprehensive, behavior-based research agenda,” Perdomo said.
“Research is clear that healthy eating patterns in childhood and adolescence promote optimal health, growth and intellectual development. Children perform better in school, and health problems such as iron deficiency anemia, kidney disease, eating disorders and dental problems can be prevented with a healthy diet,” Perdomo said.
Four registered dietitians, all of whom are members of the American Dietetic Association, served on the IOM committee that made the new recommendations. And ADA believes registered dietitians are key to successfully implementing nutrition and wellness programs in schools as well.
“School nutrition personnel are integral to the successful implementation of nutrition standards,” Perdomo said. “They should be appropriately certified and possess principles and knowledge in food, nutrition and food safety. “
“RDs are uniquely qualified to strengthen local school wellness policies, balancing student satisfaction with nutritional needs and doing it all cost-effectively. Improving the nutritional quality of our children’s school meals requires trained professionals such as registered dietitians in positions of responsibility in schools and districts,” Perdomo said.
ADA members are employed throughout the country in the field of school nutrition services, committed to the integrity and promotion of school meal programs and the advancement of sound nutrition for children. More than 1,000 ADA members belong to the Association’s School Nutrition Services practice group.
The IOM recommendations — which go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be written into regulations — strongly reflect recommendations of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, of which ADA is a steering committee member. Several American Dietetic Association priority issues regarding children’s nutrition are included in the NANA recommendations:
- Ensure the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the foundation of federal food assistance and nutrition programs by updating national nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, such as vending machines, stores, snack bars and a la carte items in cafeterias
- Setting time frames to encourage the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quickly implement the IOM’s recommendations on school meal standards and supporting the nutrition integrity of new WIC food packages
- Provide adequate funding for program implementation for school meals and WIC food packages
- Place trained professionals in roles where they make policies by calling for qualified nutrition professionals at the district level for school foodservice
- Strengthen nutrition education and promotion by funding the Team Nutrition Network authorized in the last Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
The IOM made additional recommendations in areas ADA supports, including:
- Strengthening nutrition education for students and technical assistance to schools
- New procedures for monitoring the quality of school meals
- Adequate reimbursement rates for school meals, since new nutrition standards would cost more for schools to implement.
The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org.