The River Bend School District is preparing to make big changes to the school lunch program in compliance with the new national nutrition standards passed at the end of January as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The new standards include offering more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limiting calories and lowering sodium content. Students will be offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week. This requires offering vegetable subgroups weekly such as dark green, orange, legumes, and other as defined in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and a limited quantity of starchy vegetables throughout the week. Half of the grains must be whole grain-rich upon implementation of the rule and all grains must be whole-grain rich two years post implementation.
Adding more fresh fruit and vegetables could create problems for River Bend Middle School, due to the lack of storage space. The school does not have a walk-in cooler to store the large amount of fruit and vegetables required to follow the new program, according to head cook Carolyn Meurs.
“While the high school has a walk-in cooler, we do not and this would make it hard to offer all the fruits and vegetables,” Meurs said.
Meurs also says she is concerned by the emphasis on offering many vegetables that kids will not eat or are not familiar with. Some of the vegetables include kale, mesclun, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, jicama and several other items not commonly served in school lunches.
“Kids aren’t going to want to eat kale,” Meurs said. “Have you ever had kale?”
The amount of starchy vegetables such as corn, potatos and peas, offered must be limited to one per week. The school currently offers these multiple times each week. Canned fruits and vegetables will be phased out as well, due to the high content of sugar and salt respectively.
This could result in less students getting the school lunches and more bringing their own lunches, according to Meurs. In order to offer so many fruits and vegetables the lunch prices are expected to increase.
River Bend Middle School baker Shauna Snyder says the changes will affect her job greatly.
“There will be no more cookies or cakes,” Snyder said.
Schools will also be required to offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties. Calories will be limited based on the age/grade of children being served to ensure proper portion size. Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium is also one of the main changes. Sodium content will be reduced in meals gradually over a 10-year period through two intermediate sodium targets at two and four years post implementation. Meals will also be prepared using food products or ingredients that contain zero grams of trans fat per serving.
Peggy Kilburg, River Bend cafeteria manager, has been looking into the changes and how the district will accommodate them. Currently they have not received a lot of guidance on some of the specifics of the program, but Kilburg hopes to learn more and get her questions answered at a webinar for school cafeteria workers in the state of Illinois.
Kilburg is concerned about agreements for next school year that she has already made with vendors such as Tyson for chicken nuggets for the next school year. School menus are planned far in advance, according to Kilburg. Menus for August are already decided in May.
“I’m a little worried about the changes,” Kilburg said. “I hope they can answer all of my questions, because I have a lot.”