The School Nutrition Association (SNA) encourages the consumption of nutritious, well-balanced school lunches and breakfasts that follow federal nutrition guidelines based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These meals must provide students with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains. A careful and scientifically rigorous review of the components required to be part of school meals is currently underway by an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine. Changes to the school meal menu pattern requirements, including calls by special interest advocacy and animal rights groups to prohibit lean processed or cured meats from being served in schools, should be weighed carefully to ensure they are grounded in the most recent scientific research taking into account the limitations of epidemiological studies. The science behind the calls to eliminate processed meats from schools is far from conclusive.
School districts are continuing the push towards healthy school nutrition environments. Within the school cafeteria there has been significant progress in implementing local school wellness policies. Over 90% of districts have implemented nutrition standards for reimbursable school meals. Additionally, schools are offering many different types of healthy food options according to the School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2007, including offering fat-free or low-fat milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. School nutrition directors report increased availability of healthful foods:
- Whole grains (85.1%)
- Healthier beverages in vending machines (81.3%)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (68.8%)
- And limiting or reducing the following:
- Fat (73.1%) and Trans fats (73.6%)
With regard to specific calls for the removal of processed, or cured, meats from schools by special interest animal rights groups, SNA maintains that lean meats and other proteins are an important part of balanced school meals. Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds supply many key nutrients that children need including protein, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium. Vitamin E, iron and zinc have been singled out as nutrients of concern for their particularly important role in the health of children. School nutrition programs menu processed meats such as hot dogs, sliced deli-style turkey and ham and others because of their nutrition density and popularity among students and society as a whole. Increasingly school nutrition programs are menuing versions of these products that are low in fat and free of hormones and antibiotics. Students receive about 18% of their meals during the calendar year in schools. The lean processed meat served in schools reflects the broader popularity of these proteins in the American diet.