U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about childhood obesity at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, April 9, 2010.
Childhood obesity is a growing problem, and the government is taking steps to try to curb it by changing what children are served for lunch in schools. REUTERS

Childhood obesity is a growing problem, and the government is taking steps to try to curb it by changing what children are served for lunch in schools. The administration announced the changes to government-subsidized school lunches on Wednesday, and students will now be served more fruits and green vegetables and less salt and fat.

The administrations' earlier proposal to curb childhood obesity by changing school lunches, which would have reduced the amount of potatoes that are served to students and not allowed schools to count tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable serving, was blocked by Congress several months ago. In the changes announced on Wednesday, potatoes are not restricted, and a quarter cup of tomato paste counts as a vegetable serving.

As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat and ensure that they have a reasonable balanced diet, Michelle Obama said in a statement. And when we are putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria.

These changes to school lunches are the first in 15 years, and will add approximately $3.5 billion to the already $11 billion budget, which is half of what the administration's original plan to curb childhood obesity would have cost. More than 30 million children participate in school lunch programs daily.

The amount of fruits and vegetables served to students will double, and all grains served must be whole grains. The new rules also mandate that all milk served must be low-fat, and there are limits on salt and trans-fats for the first time. There are also minimum and maximum calorie intake limits per student per day based on age.

We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing final guidance to help schools across the country serve healthier meals to students, Jessica Donze Black, project director for the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project told The New York Times. The updated nutrition standards for school meals are now in line with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Earlier versions of the proposal were panned by some in the food industry for trying to limit the amount of potatoes served, and though the new guidelines do not, Mark Szymanski, a spokesman for the National Potato Council, told The New York Times that the government is painting the potato in a bad light. Despite the fact that Congress said the U.S.D.A. could not limit potatoes in school lunches or breakfast, we still feel like the potato is being downplayed in favor of other vegetables in the new guidelines, he said. It seems the department still considers the potato a second-class vegetable.

Corey Henry, vice president for communications of the American Frozen Food Institute, however, praised the new anti-obesity lunch measures. From our perspective, the new rules improve school nutrition, but at the same time give schools the flexibility to serve a variety of foods to meet the standards, he said. It's a balanced approach that meets the goals of everyone involved.

The new rules are in line with the USDA's MyPlate program, the current nutrition guide, which replaced the Food Pyramid on June 2, 2011 after 19 years. The MyPlate guide emphasizes fruits and vegetable, much like Michelle Obama's school lunch guidelines. Grains and protiens each make up a quarter. A glass of milk is off to the side, and desserts are no longer present.

Parents don't have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or to look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving, Michelle Obama said when unveling the program last summer. But we do have time to take a look at our kids' plates. And as long as they're eating proper portions, as long as half of their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside their lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, then we're good. It's as simple as that.