The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Students must choose vegetables, fat free milk and whole grains|
Students line up to purchase lunch in the Ramsey Cafeteria at the high school.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer
Students in Franklin County schools may have noticed "drastic" changes to their cafeteria lunches this year because of new guidelines from the federal government.
School cafeterias are being required to meet new federal nutrition standards for school meals, imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to Chuck Hutto, director of food services for Franklin County schools.
"The new standards will affect finances for us and meal patterns and selections for the students," Hutto said.
The new guidelines require schools to meet additional school lunch standards, including age appropriate calorie limits, serving size and varieties of fruits and vegetables, fat free or skim milk, more whole grains and less sodium.
The USDA guidelines state that each meal has to consist of at least one fruit and two vegetables or one vegetable and two fruits.
"The biggest change is that in order to make a meal, we have to serve a fruit and vegetable on every tray," said school nutritionist Heather Snead. "In the past, the students weren't required to take a fruit or vegetable. Now, they are being told they have to. The USDA feels that the students benefit from it and that the child obesity problem in our country is growing."
The IOM (Institute of Medicine) has guidelines that are different from the school lunch program's guidelines, and in order for the two guidelines to merge, the changes had to indeed be drastic, Snead said.
Not only are more fruits and vegetables required, they are placed into categories of variety and color. Among the categories are dark green, red/orange, starchy, beans and legumes. Lima beans and corn are considered starchy vegetables, while green beans are in the "others" category, Snead said.
Not popular, but now required, is the black bean salsa, which adds to the color and variety of school lunches, Snead added.
In the past, students have had the choice of whole, 2 percent, 1 percent or skim milk. Under the new guidelines, all milk, including flavored (chocolate and strawberry), must be fat free or skim.
Grain and bread limitations have also been updated with hamburger and hotdog buns being changed to whole wheat.
"Last year, I was allowed to have a minimum of 12 bread servings a week and I couldn't go over," said Snead. "This year, the stricter guidelines say I'm only allowed between 8 and 9 servings and that includes the breading on the chicken nuggets."
"And to further complicate matters, the calorie and bread/grain counts for K-5, middle school and high school area all different," Hutto added.
Also changing soon are the sodium restrictions, and next year, the breakfast program will also be updated, Snead said.
"Many of our students and parents are not in favor of the changes, and there seems to be a lot of complaints," said Snead. "They (the children) don't want to be told what they can and cannot eat."
"Part of our frustration is, if we make it mandatory that they take something, it might become plate waste. The kids aren't eating what's being put on their plates," Hutto said. "With the new guidelines, we have no choice."
Schools do offer a choice of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a chef salad as an alternative if students can't find something on the menu they like, Snead said.
"Some of the kids are allergic to peanut butter or just don't want to eat salads every day," she said. "We have spoken with some of the students and cafeteria managers and are doing our best to come up with foods the kids will not only like, but will fit within the new guidelines."
The printed school menus have changed. Instead of stating that the students can "choose one" fruit or vegetable, they now say that the students can choose "up to three."
"We still try to make as much as we can from scratch," Snead said. "We are one of the few school districts left that still makes breads and deserts from scratch. Even the wraps are hand wrapped by cafeteria staff."
"Our cafeterias are self-supporting," she added. "We are not part of the school budget process. We really need the kids to come back and eat school lunches. This is a balancing act all the way around."