MOUNT VERNON — In order to enhance the diet and health of school children and help reduce the trend of childhood obesity, the United States Department of Agriculture has issued new school lunch rules which went into effect this school year.
In short, schools must: Increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free and low-fat milk; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and portion sizes and recipes must be designed according the specific caloric needs of students at each grade level. That is, the average amount of daily calories must be at least the minimum and no more than the maximum values for each grade level. The average daily school lunch calorie allowance for pupils in kindergarten through grade 5 is a minimum of 550 to a maximum of 650. Students in grades six through eight, 600-700; and grades 9-12, 750-850.
Under the new rule, the number of fruits and vegetables offered to students over the course of a week would double at breakfast and rise substantially at lunch. Schools will no longer be able to substitute between fruits and vegetables. A minimum number of vegetable servings a week from each of five vegetable subgroups is required. The subgroups include dark green such as broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, romaine lettuce and spinach; red/orange such as squash, carrots, pumpkin, tomato, tomato juice and sweet potatoes; legumes such as, black beans, peas, lentils and kidney beans; starchy such as corn, cassava, green lima beans, white potatoes and water chestnuts; and other vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, celery and zucchini.
Schools are now limited in the amount of meat and meat alternatives, such as cheese, eggs and peanut butter, they may serve each week. Some main entrees, therefore, may not be as large as in the past. For example, pupils in kindergarten through grade three may have a minimum of 1 1/2 ounces of meat or cheese, while those in grades four through six may have 2 ounces. Three ounces of meat or cheese are recommended for students in grades seven through twelve.
Area cafeteria managers have already taken steps to meet the new requirements.
Centerburg’s Gail McClary said her district, for one, has switched to whole grains and has added fresh spinach to the salad mix. “So far the kids have not complained,” she added.
East Knox this year has added black beans, refried beans and northern beans to the menu in all three buildings to meet the legume part of the vegetable requirement. It also provides a salad bar in each building to help meet the green leafy, orange and red vegetable requirement. The salad bar has been offered in the past; it was just a matter of adding the new items.
“The students are slowly starting to eat the vegetables,” East Knox food service manager Brent Kasler told the News. “The students in the high school and middle school seem to like the salad [vegetable] bar, but the elementary students are still trying to figure it out. I think the high school students like the legumes better than the middle or elementary students, but the more they are exposed to them, I think they will learn to ‘tolerate’ them.”
Time spent on paperwork has increased for cafeteria staff. Besides mandating changes in the way menus are planned, the rule requires schools to keep production and menu records for the meals they produce. The records must show how the meals contribute to the required food components, food items or menu items every day. In addition, for lunches, the records must show how the lunches to the specific nutrition standards and the appropriate calorie and nutrient levels for the ages/grades of the children in the school.
Mount Vernon’s foodservice coordinator Nancy Bevan said, “It does take more time right now planning the menus, trying to find the right mix of menu items to meet the regulations, but to also please our customers.”
The act also requires school districts to increase the price charged for school lunches over the course of the next few years to be equal to what the government reimburses the district for a free lunch.
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