November 2014 | | 1-888-376-7136

[Volume 6, Issue 11]

USDA Nutrition Standards and School Adherence

Since the fall of 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has required that schools participating in the reimbursable National School Lunch Program meet nutritional standards. That's understandable, and I think a good thing.

Is this a big change for schools? How many schools served healthy lunches before these standards? Well, according to a new study, very few.

Few schools adhered to USDA nutrition standards before 2013

This news story published by Reuters Health describes a study that found most schools weren’t even close to the new standards. One-third of high schools in the U.S. didn’t even meet one of the four standards measured by the authors.

So what’s the big deal about school lunch standards? These standards have been designed to help kids get the good nutrition they need without overloading on the calories. Hopefully, it will have an impact on childhood obesity.

Taking a Tip From Happy Meals

Kids love Happy Meals because they contain little toys.  Heck, sometimes adults like the toys. The problem, as most of us know, is these little fast food feasts are high in calories, fat, sugar and sodium. They’re not really a good source of nutritious food, but they’re fun.

We can fight the power of the Happy Meal - they've been banned in San Francisco - or maybe you can harness that power.

Rethinking the Happy Meal? Small prizes may get kids to pick up fruits and veggies at school

This news story from The Washington Post talks about a program that uses an approach similar to the Happy Meal incentive, but the focus is on healthier foods.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center designed the program that features a ‘power plate’ made up of five healthier foods. When kids selected foods that constituted the power plate, they were given prizes, such as stickers or pencils.

The program was a hit with the kids – and, the researchers say it can work in schools that have a tight budget because cheaper prizes worked  (although, higher quality prizes were better).

What to do at home and school:

  • Have older students design do-it-yourself programs that can be sent home with younger kids. Include instructions for parents who might want to design a similar program at dinnertime.
  • Teachers who eat with their kids can do this - offer small stickers or prizes to kids who choose and eat healthier meals.
  • Be a role model - whether you're a parent or a teacher, make sure the kids see that you're eating a healthy meal as well.
Kids Not Eating Enough Colorful Vegetables

This isn't a surprise - according to the USDA, Americans in general aren't eating enough dark green, red and orange vegetables. But, sadly, kids are eating the least.

The dark and brightly colored vegetables are usually the most nutritious, highest in fiber and lowest in calories. Fresh and frozen produce should be the cornerstone of every healthy diet - but they're not. Maybe because they're a little more expensive than more calorie-dense foods, or maybe kids (and adults) don't like the bitter flavors of the vegetables.

Americans aren't eating enough dark green, red, and orange vegetables

This short article cuts right to the chase - the average adult gets about half of the daily suggested amount of vegetables - kids get about one-third.

So how much do we need? In the old days, the suggestion was 5 to 9 servings, but cups per calories have replaced that notion. It comes out to 1¼ cup of total vegetables per 1,000 calories. Half of those veggies should be green or brightly colored.

What to do at school:

  • Math problems - have kids determine how many cups of vegetables are needed for people at different calorie needs.
  • Visual aids - use measuring cups to demonstrate just how much kids (and adults) need.
  • Take field trips to farms or plant vegetable gardens at school - it helps get kids interested in eating their veggies!
Canned Fruits and Vegetables Can Be Good for Kids

Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables might retain their individual nutrients a bit better than canned versions, but that doesn't mean canned goods can't be part of a healthy diet.

In fact, kids who eat canned fruits and vegetables tend to have better diets than kids who don't eat canned fruits and vegetables. I think this is important information because canned goods are often less expensive than fresh produce, and they last a long time.

Canned fruits and vegetables tied to better nutrition for America's kids

This news story describes these new findings. Researchers looked at information gathered through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They also found that kids who ate more canned fruits and vegetables also got more protein, vitamin A, calcium and potassium.

What to do at school:

  • Teach kids how to select canned goods - less sodium and less sugar is best.
  • Find healthy recipes that feature canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Talk about the importance of eating lots of fruits and vegetables.
Helping Kids Avoid Junk Food at the Grocery Store

Next time you go to the grocery store, take a look at the foods that are lurking on the lower shelves - the ones that are kids' eye-level. You may find lots of junk foods with attention-grabbing labels that can entice kids to beg for the product.

Some researchers say that needs to be changed.

Researchers urge retailers to replace kids' 'eye level' junk food

This news story says policies aimed at encouraging families and children to eat healthier could be aided by retailers that place healthier food options at the eye level of children. Something to think about - maybe place a few healthier foods on the lower shelves or even have healthy in-store food tastings for kids.

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  • With Schools preparing for the new school year, allow us to show you how you can save time and money on your lunch administration. Click here for information.

  • Ask us how today. Call 1-888-376-7136 or email
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Side Effects of Too Much Caffeine

Caffeine -- usually in the form of coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and energy drinks -- is usually consumed to increase cognitive functioning and improve a bad mood. Judging by the length of the waiting line at Starbucks, this must be especially true in the mornings.

Many of us feel like we can't function until we get our first cup (or two) of coffee. That's totally fine, but what happens if you drink three, four or more cups? How much caffeine is too much? 

What Caffeine Does
Caffeine is a stimulant and some studies show that small amounts of caffeine may improve your mental response time. Other studies show that the cognitive improvements and mood elevation may not be due to the beneficial aspects of caffeine as much as ending the withdrawal symptoms you feel when you haven't had your morning "fix" yet.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe?
It seems that experts who study caffeine agree that consuming up to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe -- for adults anyway. That's roughly the amount of caffeine you would get from three cups (not mugs or big paper cups) of coffee. 

Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant may want to decrease that amount or skip the caffeine altogether. 
Less is known about caffeine use in kids -- but gulping down the energy drinks before school is probably a lousy idea.

Getting Too Much Caffeine
Consuming more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per day may give you the "caffeine jitters," which is that jumpy and slightly alarmed feeling. Larger amounts of caffeine may make you irritable, sleepless, and may even trigger anxiety and cause diarrhea.

Caffeine can act as a diuretic, so people assumed that drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated beverages would cause dehydration.  However, researchers found that your body adjusts to your caffeine intake so drinking caffeinated beverages won't increase your need for water.

Reducing or Eliminating Caffeine
Kicking the caffeine habit cold turkey isn't good. Caffeine withdrawal can give you headaches, make you crabby, give you muscle aches and generally make you feel miserable for a few days. The withdrawal symptoms will pass after a week or so, but blending regular caffeinated beverages with decaf for a few days might help with the transition.

More About School Lunches, Nutrition and Healthy Kids

Dietitians provided support to mothers of children with food allergies

Obese children show early signs of heart disease

Genes may determine body weight by shaping gut bacteria

Calorie-tracking apps may not help you lose weight

About Shereen Jegtvig

Shereen Jegtvig is a health and nutrition writer with two decades of experience counseling people on nutrition and diet. She has a master’s degree in human nutrition and is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Shereen writes about nutrition for the large website (, is co-author of Superfoods for Dummies ( and Clinical Anatomy for Dummies ( She also teaches Evidence Based Nutrition to nutrition graduate students at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.