School meals are healthy meals that are required to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To receive federal reimbursements, school meal programs must offer “reimbursable” meals that meet strict federal nutrition standards. These standards, also referred to as “the meal pattern,” require schools to offer students the right balance of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains and lean protein with every meal.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update these nutrition standards for the first time in 15 years. The new regulations, effective beginning in 2012, require cafeterias to offer more fruit, vegetables and whole grains and limit sodium, calories and unhealthy fat in every school meal.