New, healthier options in the cafeteria line will greet students returning to school this year.

According to a registered dietitian with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, the new options available in the hot line at school better reflect what a healthy meal should look like.

"For those parents who are not always able to afford healthy meals at home, they can rest assured that children who are eating breakfast and lunch at school are getting some of the vitamins and minerals they need in their diet at school," said Kristi King, a registered dietitian with BCM.

The new changes in the cafeteria hot line were a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which passed in 2010. The Act has allowed some of the most comprehensive changes made in more than 15 years and reflect the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

It requires that schools offer up to one cup of fruits and vegetables every day, up from the previous requirement of a half cup. It also includes a weekly requirement of how many times school cafeterias must offer green, red and orange vegetables as well as beans, peas and starchy vegetables. Half of the grains provided in the hot line must be whole grains, and all of the milk, no matter what flavor, must be low fat or fat free.

Although breakfast standards are not required to change until 2013, many schools are already starting to implement the changes this year.

For parents who pack their child's lunch, King suggests using these new changes as guidelines for choosing what to pack. Her suggestions for what to pack include:

  • A good protein source – examples include a ham and cheese sandwich, peanut butter, a boiled egg, leftover grilled chicken from the night before or even rice and beans. Greek yogurt is also a great source of protein and also falls into the dairy category
  • Whole grain foods
  • Foods that are high in fiber
  • Fruits and vegetables

King advises that parents who pack their child's lunch be sure that their lunch boxes or bags are insulated so that foods stay at the proper temperature. Parents can also include ice packs in the lunch boxes to ensure food safety.

These changes in the school lunches should go along with parents and children trying healthier choices at home, since children learn from the example their parents set.

"We need to help our younger generation live a healthier lifestyle," said King.