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It's been another outstanding year for healthier school meals programs and the millions of American students that benefit from them.

Today, more than 97 percent of schools nationwide report they are meeting the updated school meal standards, which are based on pediatricians' and nutritionists' recommendations.

The new meals provide children more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium.

There are numerous examples of how schools are providing a healthier school environment with more nutritious options to students across the country, but below are just a few:

Fuel Up to Play 60

Andrew is a Wisconsin seventh-grader and Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador. In collaboration with USDA, Fuel Up to Play 60 serves as an in-school nutrition and physical activity program to help encourage young people to lead healthier lives.

The middle school student talked about the school's garden, noting that students and staff care for 22 garden beds that are planted with different fruits and vegetables in them. With those fruits and vegetables, students and staff harvest them for the district's schools for student consumption.

Student Fuel Up to Play 60 ambassadors like Andrew help out with the garden, pulling weeds, making garden beds, shoveling soil, planting seeds and watering plants and finally eating the fruits of their labor.

Whipping up wellness

The Team Nutrition Training Grants were awarded as part of USDA's Team Nutrition initiative, which provides resources, training, and nutrition education lessons for schools and child care providers.

Wisconsin Team Nutrition has used the funding to build their healthy cooking contest for the states' middle and high school students.

Thanks to funding Wisconsin Team Nutrition has been able to expand its interactive cooking contest, Whipping Up Wellness, Wisconsin Student Chef Competition. Now in its third year, this popular contest combines the excitement of competition with the principles of healthy eating, while creating an engaging opportunity for nutrition education.

The competition targets Wisconsin middle and high school students. To compete, students must form a team of three to five students. Once formed, students participate in the first round of competition, a recipe contest.

Teams deliver their dish and conduct a 10-minute presentation on the development of their recipe, the appeal of their recipe, and the results of their school taste test. Judges score the final dishes on taste, appearance, originality, student appeal, and overall presentation.

Recess before lunch

Montana Team Nutrition has implemented a popular and successful Recess Before Lunch (RBL) program.

Through this initiative, Montana students enjoy active play right before indulging a nutritious school lunch meal allowing them to return to class ready for academic success.

The principal had noticed that many students only spent 3 to 5 minutes eating their meals before dumping their trays and heading to recess. He knew it was hard to eat a balanced lunch meal during such short period of time, thus he welcomed working with MTTN in investigating how RBL, as opposed to recess after lunch, might impact student food consumption and food waste.

The results showed that food waste decreased after implementing RBL and the benefits included an improved mealtime atmosphere, decreased noise level in the cafeteria and improved behavior when returning to the classroom.

Based on the pilot project's results, the Recess Before Lunch: A Guide for Success was developed and distributed to schools throughout the U.S.

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