This year, students will notice some major changes in the cafeteria.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law in 2010, calls for changes in student nutrition. First Lady Michelle Obama championed the law as part of her crusade against childhood obesity. The statute gives the United State Department of Agriculture the authority to set new standards for food sold in school lunches, authorizes additional money for federally subsidized school meals and provides resources for schools and communities to use local food sources. The bill also aims to increase the nutritional quality of food provided by the USDA, increases access to drinking water in schools and sets minimum standards for school wellness policies.
Additionally, the bill takes steps to ensure that schools are following the new guidelines set by the USDA. It requires school districts to be audited every three years to confirm that they have met nutrition standards. It also provides for easier access for students and parents regarding nutritional facts of school meals, improves recall procedures for school food and provides training for school lunch providers. Overall, the statute allocates $4.5 billion dollars for the implementation of its requirements.
Students making lunchtime selections may notice a few changes to the menu.
P-J photos by Nicholena Moon
CHANGES AT THE LUNCH TABLE
But will students actually see any of these changes at their table? The answer is yes, according to Walt Gaczewski, food services director for Jamestown Public Schools.
"The biggest change that students will notice is now at lunch time they are going to have to take a minimum of a half-cup of fruit or vegetable," he said. "But, they can also take more."
The more obvious effort will be in the kitchen and in the food administration offices. Officials must change school menus to reflect higher nutritional standards. For example, iceberg lettuce no longer counts as a vegetable, so all Jamestown's salads are now made with romaine lettuce.
"As far as me planning the menus, I have to make sure there is, offered in the middle schools here, at least a half of cup of fruit every day," said Gaczewski, "and in the high school one full cup. For elementary and middle school vegetables I have to offer three-quarters of a cup and at the high school one full cup a day. And I have different color vegetables I have to offer."
In addition to the higher vegetable requirements, schools can no longer serve high-calorie meals, and must watch the amount of protein, grains and sodium they offer.
"The biggest thing for us in making the menus is that they never used to have maximums on the amount of grain or protein you could serve," said Gaczewski. "Now for elementary schools, I can only serve 8 to 9 ounces of meat per week, or cheese or meat equivalent. There are also calorie maximums, which we didn't have before, and that's a big issue."
Elementary schools can have a minimum of 550 and a maximum of 650 calories on average for the week, while the high school menu goes up to 750 to 850 calories. Additionally, certain items must be on the menu daily, such as milk.
"Milk has to be offered every day," said Gaczewski, "and another big change is that flavored milk, like chocolate milk, can only be fat free. The highest milk fat we can offer is 1 percent white."
Each meal's nutrient levels are put into a software program that calculates resulting calorie levels. This information is posted online under the heading "Nutrient Analysis" on the school district's website. According to Gaczewski, the new standards are helping to improve the health of students by forcing the administration to carefully consider its menu choices.
"We are thinking about the menu a lot differently than we used to," he said. "I think it's a step in the right direction. Right now it can be difficult for us because a lot of the products aren't manufactured to meet our meal pattern. An example would be sodium. Some foods like pizza are high in sodium, so the factories where we have these products made, they are going to have to work with us to lower that, and also the grains."
The crust from one typical slice of pizza counts as three grains under the new system, and the most that can be served in one week is 10 grains. Schools must offer at least one grain per day. As a result, portions of meals such as pizza will be decreased.
"You may see the entrees a little bit smaller, but you're going to see more fruits and vegetables," said Gaczewski. "It's like all-you-can-eat fruits and vegetables."
This decrease in portion size may not go over well with the student body, which has grown used to large slices on pizza day. Few complaints have been registered thus far, but the school year has only just begun.
A similar overhaul of the breakfast menu is the next step, says Gaczewski.