Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

Last week, in my local paper’s Sunday edition, I came across an article that I wanted to discuss with you all. I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Initiated in 2010 by Michelle Obama, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act allowed for the USDA to mandate “menu makeovers” for school lunches in the 2012-2013 school year. The plan is to have schools incorporate new grains and more fruits and vegetables.

School Food - Chicken Nuggets


Here’s a quick breakdown of the changes (for PA):

Food Group



Fruits & Vegetables

1/2 to 3/4 c. of fruit and vegetables combined per day 3/4 to 1 c. of vegetables + 1/2 to 1 c. of fruit per day


No subgroup specifications for vegetables Weekly offerings of every vegetable subgroup (dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy, other)


1 c., variety of fat contents and flavors allowed 1 c., must be fat-free or 1% low fat (unflavored)


8 servings of grains per week (minimum of 1 per day); whole grains encouraged At least 1/2 of grains must be whole grain-rich (as of 07/01/14)

Protein/Protein alternate (for example, cheese)

Daily minimum of 1.5 to 2 ounces of protein Weekly requirements (high school): 10-12 ounces.

Information provided by the PA Department of Education

At first glance, this seems like a 100% positive change. However, many schools have concerns with the new mandates.

Concern #1 – Wasted Food

Sure, you can put extra fruit and veggies on a student’s tray, but that doesn’t determine whether or not they will actually eat them. If students are provided with more of a certain food (let’s say, carrots), they may just end up throwing them away if they take a bite and don’t like them – no matter how hungry they are!

Concern #2 – Food Costs

The article that I read said that the price of school lunches would be increasing by about 11 cents for the current school year. Sure, 11 cents doesn’t seem like much, but the prices will only continue to climb.

Concern #3 – Funding

A 6 cent reimbursement for every “healthy” meal purchased is given to the school. However, if students do not purchase the entire meal – even if they only refuse one serving of fruit or vegetables – the reimbursement is not given. Many schools are finding themselves depending on the reimbursement to keep costs down, so if they reimbursement stops, costs will climb more rapidly.

Concern #4 – Portion Size

An example was given in the article of a high school boy who questioned the food service director after only receiving 5 chicken nuggets.

I live in a suburb of Reading, PA – a city with a high poverty rate. In the article, it stated that 92% of students in the district (Reading School District) – 92%! – receive free or reduced lunch. For some of them, the meals they are given at school may be the only substantial meal they receive all day. Scaling back portion sizes does not benefit students who are in this situation.

Overall, many agree that the intention of the program is a good one; it’s supposed to provide an opportunity to educate students on how they should be fueling their bodies. However, it seems like there are still a few issues that may need to be ironed out!

What do you think about the new “restrictions” on school lunches?

What was your favorite school lunch? I loooved chicken nuggets (and pizza, of course!). I teach at the same school I graduated from, but I have yet to go near the cafeteria food again!

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  1. Julie H. of Spinach and Sprinkles says:

    SUPER topic!!!! …. It is hitting really hard in our school district! Our poor football boys are simply starving at the end of the day! An active kid can’t live on the portions that they are serving- I feel bad for them being at school from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm and not getting anything substantial to eat– especially those involved in sports taht are going to burn 400+ calories at practice…..
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    • 4thesakeofcake says:

      Yes, exactly! The article specifically mentioned high school athletes and suggested they’ll just grab something quick at the closest fast food place since they’ll be so hungry!

  2. Lauren says:

    While I think it’s great to include healthier options in school lunches, I also think people will fear it’s just another attempt for the government to mandate the food industry. I would much rather see schools including more local or farm-to-plate options. Instead of so much processed options, why not REAL food!
    My favorite school lunch was always grilled cheese and tomato soup. Not really sure if those sandwiches were actual food, but they definitely tasted delicious! :)

  3. Angie @ Pint of Goals says:

    Today during lunch, a teacher whose husband works in another district said his school isn’t serving buns anymore with burgers or chicken sandwiches because they have to cut down on grains. I agree that they are all good intentions but it’s not a perfect program.

  4. Simone says:

    I have to be honest to not know much about the US school lunches, but I once heard that fries are counting as vegetables b/c they are made of potatoes!! Do you know if that’s true? If it is that’s just ridiculous and disastrous.

    • 4thesakeofcake says:

      I’m not sure about that! I’d be surprised if that were the case, especially with the newer regulations although you never know!

  5. Alysha @Shesontherun says:

    What an interesting post. When we were kids, I remember getting a school lunch once every few weeks. It was a treat. My parents didn’t have the money to give us three girls school lunches every day. However, if parents introduce kids to fruits and vegetables at home, they’ll be more likely to eat it. I’d hate to say it, but the parents have the responsibility to make sure their kids are eating correctly. If they know they’ll get junk food the second they come home from school, they won’t eat the healthy things they are supposed to.
    Alysha @Shesontherun recently posted..Race DreamsMy Profile

  6. Nikki Kurowski says:

    I am so happy you posted about this topic. Being a health teacher and being completely aware of the fact that America’s children are becoming more and more obese, I am all for a healthier lunch! HOWEVER, I am not about forcing kids to get a fruit, when it’s going to go in the trash. As Americans, we are already wasteful of so many things, why do we need to keep adding to it? I work at Tulpehocken, again a suburb of Reading, PA. A lot of the kids are farmers. We have the opportunity to do farm to plate programs and we aren’t doing it! We have the resources! Kids would have so much more pride if they grew their own herb, fruits, veggies, etc and using it in the meals at school. The school lunch program needs to find a cool way to to incorporate fruits and veggies into school lunches without kids noticing. Example, spaghetti squash…perfect because it’s so close to the real deal! Butternut squash soup, eggplant park, shoving cauliflower into mac and cheese…I mean the possibilities are endless but we have to be willing to dig deeper. :)

    • 4thesakeofcake says:

      A farm to plate program would be AMAZING! And I totally agree with you in trying to “sneak” in the healthy foods so that kids are more willing to try them!

  7. Natalie @ Free Range Human says:

    I just had this conversation with my government kids today. I think the initiative is positive though I agree there are certain issues that need to be worked out. However, the hard facts are that we are nation turning out obese children. I even heard a news report that this generation is the first in decades that are not expected to live as long as their parents are living. This is America! I find that appalling. We’ve got to continue to take the steps. A farm to table program would be so great. Our school has it’s own garden which not only supplements the cafeteria, but teaches the kids about whole foods and where they come from.
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