Schools under new federal lunch guidelines

More fruits and veggies on the menu

August 17, 2012 

A new school year is bringing changes to your child’s cafeteria tray.

As a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the federal guidelines became mandatory July 1, but the Raymore-Peculiar School District already began implementing some the anticipated changes last year.

The most obvious changes to lunch trays across the country will include more servings and varieties of vegetables and fruits, including a minimum number of leafy green vegetables, red-orange vegetables, starchy vegetables, and legumes each week, along with a substantial increase of grain-rich food offerings, and only low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free milk varieties are able to be served.

“Before, vegetables and fruit have always been apart of the meal pattern, but this year, students have to take a minimum of a half cup of a fruit or vegetable,” said Colleen Johnston, director of child nutrition.

More veggies may turn a frown on some faces, but Johnston said students in the Raymore-Peculiar district enjoy the option to choose locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

For the past three years, Johnston and her staff purchased a bulk of their fresh produce from an Amish farm near Windsor.

“Kids just absolutely love it,” she said.

Other foods containing high percentage saturated fats, trans fats and sodium are also being eliminated.

The new nutrition standards for school lunch also establish a maximum calorie limit for meals.

Johnston, along with members of her staff, were on hand at the district’s registration event earlier this month to offer parents and students a taste of the changes the school is making, by offering samples and being available for questions.

Over a two-year time period, the Raymore-Peculiar School District will implement more items with whole grain as the first ingredient. Everything from pizza to pasta, and even chicken nuggets, 50 percent of all grains served in meals in a week must be whole grain, Johnston said.

New regulations for breakfast will also be phased in, and regulations for a la carte items and vending machines will come later, Johnston said.

“These changes are important because of the obesity,” Johnston said. “People don’t eat very healthy anymore because they’re in a rush to go from here to there, and it’s easy to stop at fast food places.”

The USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine - a gold standard for evidence-based health analysis. The standards were also updated with changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Federal government’s benchmark for nutrition.

Schools are also being asked to pick up the tab for the healthier food changes.

“The impact on the healthier options and the fact students must choose fruit or vegetable will have a great impact financially on the school system’s child nutrition program,” Johnston said. “We operate on a very tight shoestring now and the new costs will have to be watched closely to try to break even. It will be a tight rope for sure.”

Last year, the Raymore-Peculiar district served 689,000 meals.

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