School meals undergo real changes

Government sets maximum for protein, minimum for fruit and vegetables

Schools are making real changes in meals served under the recently enacted Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. In fact, it is the biggest change in school served meals in 15 years.

"Schools are now being required to serve school meals in a whole new way," said Dale Maude Graff, Director of Food Services for California R-I School. "California Schools have tried to gradually add some new and different items so the meals wouldn’t be such a shock to the kids and the adults."

The school will be offering larger servings of both fruit and vegetables in the lunches. In addition, the school must meet specified weekly requirements for certain categories of vegetables, such as dark green vegetables (i.e. romaine lettuce, broccoli, spinach, and greens) and red-orange vegetables (i.e. carrots, red peppers and sweet potatoes).

"Not only do these need to be on the menu each week," Graff said. "But we also need to include a serving of beans such as black beans, pinto beans, navy beans or refried beans each week."

To meet the new requirements, the "good old standby favorites" will be served less. That means potatoes, corn and green beans won’t be offered as much.

In order for the meal to count as a "fully reimbursable school meal," each student is required to have at least one-half cup of fruit or vegetables on their tray.

In addition, the school is now limited on the amount of meat or other protein (such as cheese, peanut butter or yogurt) a student is allowed at each meal.

"In years past the schools have had a minimum amount (of protein) to offer each age group but could always offer more," said Graff. "The new meal pattern now has maximum limits for protein amounts so students may be seeing smaller servings of the main entrée."

There is a 12-ounce maximum protein limit each week for a high school student, with a two-ounce minimum each day.

In addition, cheese slices and chili dog sauce are counted in the maximum protein limits. Bread and grain servings must meet the same minimum and maximum amounts.

At least half of the grains also need to be "whole grain rich." At California, almost all grains served already meet the whole grain requirement.

"Hopefully the students will learn to add more vegetables and fruit to their plate to make their meal healthy and filling," said Graff.

Elementary students at California have a fresh vegetable cup offered each day in addition to the fruit and vegetable listed on the menu. Middle school and high school students have fresh vegetables and romaine-spinach mix green salad to add to their plate each day. They also have several choices of fresh and canned fruit available.

The milk offered at school has been one percent or skim milk for quite some time even with fat free, lower sugar chocolate and strawberry milk.

The targets for lower sodium, saturated fat and trans fat free targets will eventually be met for all school meals.

Although the new breakfast pattern is optional for this school year, California has decided to go ahead and implement those before they actually become requirements.

An added fruit serving is on the line for the students as well as more whole grain products. Both hot and cold breakfast items are offered each day. Cereal is a daily option and all milk is low fat or fat free.

"This is the biggest change in school lunch for over 15 years and it will take everyone some time to get used to the new guidelines," Graff said. "There will be some things that will work and there will be things that do not work at all, but hopefully by working together, trying new things, and tasting new foods both at school and at home we can help our students learn to eat a healthier diet with a larger variety of foods."

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