Exclusive: USDA to Announce Healthier New School Lunch Guidelines

Exclusive: First new school lunch guidelines in 15 years.

January 12, 2011, 8:18 PM

Jan. 13, 2011 — -- Later today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will announce the first new school lunch guidelines in 15 years.

In that time, childhood obesity rates in this country have risen yet more.

The Academy for Global Citizenship, a school in Chicago, is one of about a thousand schools that have already adopted the food of the future.

"We serve only whole grains and fresh fruits and fresh vegetables. Things like quinoa, as you mentioned, and kamut and millet," said Sarah Elizabeth Ippel founder and Executive Director of the school. "Positive nutrition is essential and a very integral component to effective learning."

Here's an example of a current school lunch:

And here's what a meal might look like under the new rules:

"The more we can reinforce the right set of choices and encourage the right set of choices, the greater the chances are that we will get a handle on obesity," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told "Good Morning America."

The underlying requirements are based on an Institute of Medicine study: reduce saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Increase whole grains. Serve both fruits and vegetables daily. And, for the first time, set maximum calorie counts in addition to minimum ones.

"This doesn't mean that we are going to eliminate treats, not at all. But it is a circumstance, situation where treats have a special meaning, a special occasion, a special circumstance that we celebrate with a treat," Vilsack added.

Children consume more than half of their calories at school.

"Schools are supposed to set an example of many, many values of society and one of them ought to be eating well," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at NYU and the author of "What to Eat". "The schools that I've been in that have the best school lunch programs work with the kids very closely on how the foods taste, get the kids involved in cooking, talk about where the food comes from and make the school lunch program part of the whole educational program. "

The Academy for Global Citizenship is a public charter school that serves school meals that already meet these new USDA standards.

Changes Go Beyond School Cafeteria

"GMA" paid a visit to the school. On this day, the menu included teriyaki chicken with brown rice pilaf, apple carrot salad, even honey mustard tempeh. But would kids like the food?

"It was delicious," Omar Cruz, a third-grader, said.

"Good. A little bit spicy," noted Jorge Espinoza, another third-grader.

But a few admit that they sometimes crave foot a little less nutritious.

"Like a hot dog or something," third-grader Caleb Gallagher said with a shrug.

These menus are affecting more than just the students.

"He started changing some habits at home. Sometimes when we go shopping, he goes 'no, no, no - that's not healthy,'" Josefina Floriano, the mother of a first grade student, said of her son's reaction to the menu changes.

All public schools, K through 12, must start serving the new selections in 2010.

Click HERE to see examples of school lunches -- before and after the nutritional guidelines.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events