USDA Bans Whole Milk in Schools. Rolls Out Major School Lunch Reforms

USDA bans whole milk in schools, as part of new guidelines. (ThinkStock Photos)

Whole milk just got expelled from school. White bread is up for suspension.

On Wednesday, the healthy school lunch movement earned a $3.2 billion dollar raise, and with it a new set of mandates for cafeterias nationwide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a federally funded, five-year plan to improve cafeteria food and reduce childhood obesity.

Take a look at school lunches around the world.

The new guidelines, impacting about 32 American million kids, will guarantee more fruits, veggies and whole grains on the lunch table. Full-fat milk is off the menu, meaning kids will choose from low-fat or fat-free. Schools are also responsible for proper portion sizes. And those outsourced vending machines on school property stuffed with potato chips and candy bars? Those will be getting a revamp with healthier options too.

Over the next three years, schools across the country -from Kindergarten through twelfth grade- will be required to implement these changes.

What's really a vegetable? Congress has a interesting theory.

In Wednesday's announcement, the USDA released sample "before and after" menu for the average elementary school to reflect the improvements the budgetary boost and guidelines will make. Fried mozzarella and marinara sticks are swapped out for a chef's salad. Pizzas get a whole wheat crust. Condiments are reduced in fat. And even canned fruit is out in, in favor of raw, fresher options.

The changes that don't come cheap. At six cents a meal, the government will be forking over a major chunk of change. But that money is an investment in our population's future. With a 17 percent obesity rate for U.S. kids under 18, diabetes and heart problems threatens the livelihood of an enitre generation.

Schools aren't all to blame. Their improvements are also a small part of the solution. A recent study pegs the bulk of childhood diet problems on parents. But it hasn't helped that educational outposts sanction the same food that's making kids sick.

First Lady Michelle Obama has spent her White House tenure pushing for dietary improvements in schools. She's largely credited with these monumental USDA requirements. It's been 15 years since the government's nutritional arm has made any such changes to school lunch requirements. Despite all the energy behind the food revolution in recent years, this is the first time massive amounts of federal money is being allotted for a nationwide overhaul.

Now comes the next hurdle: How will the government insure each school uses the funding responsibly? And if left to their own devices, how will schools dance around the definition of food groups? You'd think, at this point, the USDA wouldn't have to specify that pizza doesn't count as a vegetable. But even their expectations of schools are underwhelming. On the USDA's highly optimistic sample menu, one of the ideal vegetable courses- post-guideline implementation-isn't steamed greens but baked sweet potato fries. It's better than tater tots, but is it enough to curb an epidemic?

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