Nutrition and Health

The school lunch program includes nutrition requirements for all subsidized meals. These requirements specify the amount of calories, fat, and nutrients needed in a meal depending on the age of the student consuming it, and specify the variety of foods that must be offered. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the new guidelines be aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans In addition to lessening hunger for low-income students during school hours, the program has also successfully limited malnutrition, improved the health of participants, and increased the intake of key nutrients for the target population.

Despite these benefits, the safety, cost, and health of meals served by the school nutrition programs have come under some scrutiny. For example, recent media reports detailed schools' servings of ground beef product known as "pink slime," causing public outrage over schools' practices of purchasing low-cost, sometimes less-healthy foods. Critics of school meal programs also believe that the nutrition requirements are contributing to childhood obesity, and pushed for the new regulations, which went into effect beginning in the 2012-13 school year. In spite of these efforts, limited funds for school meals are negatively affecting any advances, especially as food prices rise.