Back to School with Better Nutrition in Massachusetts

There will be some raised eyebrows when students hit the cafeteria on the first day of school across the country. They will be seeing less of some favorite foods and a lot more of others. Building on the new requirements issued by the US Department of Agriculture for school food service, Massachusetts has developed its own rules for deciding what food choices qualify as healthful during school hours.

Throughout the US the subsidized school lunch will include at least one vegetable and one piece of fruit every day and whole milk will be a thing of the past. There are also provisions to reduce the amount of sodium and trans and saturated fat in all items offered through the school lunch program.

MDPH has gone a step further. It has taken a hard nutrition line on what is described as competitive foods and beverages. These are a-la -carte items sold in the cafeteria, vending machines and in school stores and snack bars.

Gone are calorie laden deep fried foods; as of August 1, 2012 deep fat fryers are one piece of equipment you won’t find in school kitchen. If students want Southern Fried Chicken they will have to go elsewhere. Getting flavored milk outside of the regular school lunch may also be a problem. Beyond cutting down on fat, the new Massachusetts regulations set a limit on the amount of added sugars allowed in beverages. Flavored milk can have no more than 22 grams of sugar per 8 ounces and 100 percent fruit juices are limited to 4 oz. servings.

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The regulations pertain to any of these foods sold 30 minutes before the school day starts until 30 minutes after it ends. Foods available in vending machines must be compliant at all times.

At present, foods sold at school-sponsored fundraisers and other school events are exempt from the guidelines.

In addition to its assault on nutrient empty foods, the schools will continue a practice begun last year of calculating the body mass index (BMI) of all students in grades  1, 4, 7 and 10  and sending the results to the children’s’ parents or guardians. BMI provides a way to compare the fat mass of students to their peers and against a standard for their age and sex.

For children and teens BMI is calculated by age and sex and represented in percentiles. Still, children who  have a high BMI for their age may not be overweight if they are very muscular because BMI does not take into account the fat vs. lean mass. You can calculate your child’s BMI using the BMI calculator here and then compare in to the percentiles below.

Click on the chart to learn more about BMI for children and teens

The regulations are a boon to students with diabetes. Now many of the guidelines they have been instructed to follow are becoming the reality for all students, making it easier for them to get the foods they are recommended to eat.

But none of this will matter if students don’t eat what is offered. Students can still bring whatever they want from home, and school cafeteria’s aren’t always known for their gourmet fare. But school districts across the state are working on ways to improve the taste of their menus. After all, if students don’t eat the food, everyone suffers–the food service department loses vital revenue, and students go hungry.


  1. This is great news! However, for financial as well as nutritional reasons, I have allowed my children to pick thier favorite two meals from the monthly calendar the school’s food service distributes and let them buy only on those days. We pack lunches on all other days. This is especially helpful for the school nurse, because we can calculate all the carbs in the lunch and give her a plan for the day, with carb counts for lunch and snack times. She then has what she needs when it’s time to bolus.

    I would love to see, and it would be a great help , if you could provide in your newsletter a back-to-school 5-day school food plan for T1D children, consisting of a morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack with serving sizes and carb counts provided! One of the biggest stresses I have found is trying to provide lunches that are healthy and that are not too repetetive…my son was getting so tired of yogurt and cheese sticks last year, as they were in his lunchbox every day…almost to the point where he began to hate them and wouldn’t eat them any more. We need some more protein ideas for snacks (he was in a classroom with a child who had peanut and tree nut allergies, which made finding protein sources he’d eat difficult). We used cubes of deli meat like salami and sliced pepperoni for a while, but I know these are high in sodium, fat, and nitrates, so I began to worry and stopped using them regularly.

  2. Hey, thank you for the post. I think that we are facing a pretty serious problem with the rate of childhood obesity on the rise. We need some more programs which can help inspire some better healthy lifestyle habits.

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