Review of school lunch changes soughtAs complaints rise, congresswoman writes letter to ag secretary.
By: ROSS DOLAN and DENISE ROSS, The Daily Republic
Linda Whitney, Sanborn Central superintendent and high school principal, said recently mandated school lunch program changes are getting mixed reviews.
“It’s designed to cut fats, sodium, carbs and to promote the consumption of more fruits and vegetables, and it definitely does that,” Whitney said. “But the portion sizes for the older kids just aren’t enough, the prescribed food amount is way too much for little kids, and the fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive.”
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., has heard similar concerns and is asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to review the program ushered in under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law in December 2010.
Whitney said the new federal guidelines have become a “nightmare of bookwork” for cafeteria staff.
Joyce Everhart, Sanborn Central food service director for the past 18 years and past president of the South Dakota School Nutrition Association, said incorporating the new guidelines has been a difficult transition and one that has been tough on students.
Food expenses are also already several hundred dollars higher than they were last year due to rules requiring more fresh fruits and vegetables. Plate waste is also up under the new program.
“Perhaps as kids get used to the program, the waste will drop,” she said. “The goal of reducing obesity is a good thing, but the new program will take some getting used to.”
Noem said she’s hearing that some students aren’t getting enough to eat to sustain their level of physical activity.
“I appreciate the goal of ensuring that we have healthy food for our school children,” Noem wrote to Vilsack. “As a mother of three, with two children in the public school system, I know that providing a meal means more than food on a plate. Every child is different, and therefore their activity level and caloric requirements vary.”
Noem is asking what flexibility schools might have within the program and what kinds of cost analyses are being done.
Mitchell Food Service Director Sean Moen said his staff is monitoring plate waste, but the program hasn’t been going long enough to see if there’s an overall trend toward greater waste with the requirements for more fruits and vegetables.
The new federal program sets “calorie windows” for school lunches than cannot be exceeded.
Students in kindergarten to grade five can be served 555 to 650 calories at the noon meal; students in grades six to eight can be served 600 to 700 calories; and kids in grades nine to 12 can be served 750 to 850 calories. Last year, students were allowed 3 ounces of protein at the noon meal, but this year they can have only 2 ounces.
Items like salt shakers and butter are also history under the new program, which aims to lower the sodium and fat content of school foods.
“Protein amounts are the same if a student is in the second grade or a student is 18 years old,” said Everhart. “We used to have more leeway on our servings, but this year that has gone away.”
Sanborn Central has a fruit and vegetable bar to help meet the new requirements for those foods.
Often, the limited food isn’t enough for bigger, active kids, food service officials say, especially those involved in sports or other post-school activities.
Students can have more items on their plates, said Everhart, but she is required to charge for at least the cost of those extra items, even down to 10 cents a serving for more ketchup or ranch dressing. Additional entrees cost $1, fruits and veggie helpings are 50 cents.
The additional purchased calories don’t count against a student’s official calorie limit.
The old practice of leaving out a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, so that hungry kids can use extras to fill up, is also out.
The new portions are a good thing, said Sandra Kangas, supervisor of South Dakota’s office of Child & Adult Nutrition Services (CANS), but they may be hard for kids to accept if they are used to super-size portions away from school.
“What we’re accustomed to seeing as a serving size commercially is huge, and way more than we need, and that’s part of why we have such a growing obesity problem in the U.S.,” Kangas said. “The serving sizes students will get in school are what’s needed for their age group.”
Everhart said she doesn’t have a computer program to meet the complex new food guidelines, so she and others have adopted the Healthier Kansas Menus that the state of Kansas developed to meet USDA requirements and has offered to other states free of charge.
Everhart is hopeful the new rules will get easier to accommodate and more acceptable to kids. The changes in the food program have been drastic and hard for kids to absorb all at one time, she said.
“I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet,” Everhart said. “You have to try to do something about obesity.”