School Lunches Have Gotten Much Healthier In The Past Few Years, And They Sound A Lot Tastier Too

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Roasted Root Vegetables in White Dish IsolatedIt might be about time for people to start saying “Thanks, Obama,” unironically, because new data shows that school lunches in the U.S. have gotten healthier across the board since 2012, and that is due in large part to Michelle Obama’s efforts to reform school lunch programs and fight childhood obesity.

According to The Daily Meal, a report published by the CDC indicates that 80 percent of schools are now offering two vegetables at every meal. In 2000, only 62 percent of schools had a second vegetable option. 78 percent of schools offer two fruit options at lunch time as well. A third of U.S. schools even have salad bars.

School lunches have come a long way. I would have liked a salad bar in high school. All I remember getting from my lunch room was giant pretzels and bread bowls. (There was no soup in the bread bowl. We just bought the bread bowls and ate them like giant buns. Low-fat and fat-free diets were the big thing at the time, and I don’t think I really understood what carbs were, so I basically drank Diet Coke and ate white flour buns the size of my head for lunch everyday and griped about how I should be losing weight because I was not eating any fat.)

According to The New York Times, there have even been small reductions in childhood obesity in the past few years. The declining rates of childhood obesity were observed among the youngest children, low-income children, and children participating in federal food programs.

“Literally, the way the school lunch line looks is different,” said Deb Bentzel, senior associate at the Food Trust in Philadelphia, a nonprofit that works to increase access to nutritious food in schools and communities. “It’s brighter, it’s healthier-looking, it’s fresher.”

The food certainly sounds better. Nearly half of all schools preparing food on-site are using fresh, whole vegetables instead of canned versions. Schools that do use canned vegetables appear to have switched to low-sodium varieties. 52 percent of schools that use canned vegetables are reportedly opting for low-sodium versions, and in 2000 only 10 percent did.

Yes, a lot of children are still throwing their fruits and vegetables away. But it’s not like school administrators can physically hold children down and force-feed them apples. At least now the students have the fruits and vegetables available to them if they decide to eat them, and maybe seeing them every day will help make them seem more familiar and less likely to be dismissed out of hand as “icky.”

(Photo: iStockPhoto/GettyImages/ robynmac)