PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Education has contracted with Kids First to launch Rhode Island Nutritional Requirements (R.I.N.R.) that require the consumption of more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes and less sodium as part of school meal programs.

The program, which through Kids First receives funding provided by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Team Nutrition Grant, requires all of the grains served (rice, bread, pasta, cereal, etc.) as part of reimbursable meals and snacks will be at least 50% whole grain. In addition, 50% of all grains served as part of the reimbursable meals and snacks will be 100% whole grain.

Whole grain products may not have more than 7 grams of total sugar per oz, except for grains with fruit, the R.I.N.R. stated.

"The nutritional guidelines for our state’s school meals are a significant step in the nationwide push to improve school food," said Dorothy Brayley, executive director for Kids First. "R.I.N.R. was developed based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. R.I.N.R. takes the nutritional requirements of the U.S.D.A.’s National School Lunch Program several significant steps forward to make available and encourage the consumption of more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, more legumes and less sodium (perhaps less highly processed food?!)."

In a Sept. 13 blog on the Whole Grains Council’s web site, Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, applauded Rhode Island for taking a big step, "putting their kids first, and for serving them healthier whole grain products."

"Many schools serve whole grains … and we applaud these schools wildly," Ms. Harriman wrote. "In the face of budget cutbacks everywhere, it’s not easy to voluntarily spend more for whole grain products when nothing but your conscience and your concern for kids is making you do so."

In addition to its requirements for whole grains, the R.I.N.R. program calls for a minimum of two servings of fruit and/or vegetables to be offered at breakfast, a minimum of three servings at lunch and a minimum of one serving for an after school snack. One or more servings of cooked legumes (dried beans, dried peas or lentils) are to be offered each week as well, the R.I.N.R. said.

Regarding sodium, the maximum allowed amount for breakfast, lunch and after school snack shall be 575 mg, 1,070 mg and 350 mg, respectively, the R.I.N.R. stated.