Students heading back to the lunch line at school this year may notice some differences in the menu items, as changes to nationwide standards have been handed down by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The standards have gotten a lot tougher this year,” said Clintonville Public School District Food Service Director Karleen Brei. “Schools are going to have to work harder to make sure they meet vegetable sub-group requirements. Last year, there was just a vegetable group. This year, there are sub-groups within that vegetable group. Portion sizes will also be a bit tougher this year. Schools will also have to find and create menu items that are within the DPI and USDA guidelines, yet still palatable for students.”
Brei explained that the DPI and USDA sets up the guidelines for what must be served and in what portion sizes. All lunches offered must contain five components: vegetable, fruit, grain, meat/meat alternate, and milk.
In addition, there are now vegetable sub-groups for which schools must meet minimum serving requirements. These include 1/2 cup of dark greens, such as romaine, spinach, and broccoli; 3/4 cup of red/orange vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes; 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables, such as corn, potatoes, and green peas; 1/2 cup of legumes, such as black beans, garbanzo beans, and soy beans; and 1/2 cup of other vegetables, such as green beans, celery, and iceberg lettuce.
“Schools are required to offer a minimum of 3/4 cup of vegetables to K-8 students and a minimum of 1 cup of vegetables to 9-12 grade students,” said Brei.
The fruit component of the lunch program also has minimum servings that must be met. These can be any combination of canned, fresh or frozen fruits. Any canned fruit must be packed in water, juice or light syrup. According to Brei, Clintonville has been using juice-packed fruit for the past 14 years.
“Just like the vegetables, there are minimum required fruit servings that must be offered to students,” continued Brei. “K-8 must be offered a minimum of 1/2 cup serving of fruit per day and grades 9-12 must be offered a combined 1 cup serving of fruit per day. New this year is the requirement of a student to select at least one full half-cup serving of either a fruit or vegetable to be considered a reimbursable meal.”
Brei said one of the biggest challenges is the grain requirements.
“For the first time, schools now have not only minimum amounts (one serving per day) that must be offered, but there are also maximum amounts that may not be exceeded,” she stated. “K-5 must be served between 8-9 grain servings per week. Grades 6-8 must be served between 8-10 servings per week. Grades 9-12 must be served 10-12 servings per week.
“In addition to these requirements, at least half of the grain serving must be whole grain rich, which means that the first ingredient on the nutrition label is a whole grain,” Brei said. “This was done to try to move school meals away from being a grain-based meal to a fruit- and vegetable-based meal.”
Brei said the protein component requirements for meals has not changed dramatically, though now in addition to the minimum amount of protein required (1 ounce per day), there are also maximum amounts of protein servings per week that must be met. K-5 must be served between 8-10 ounces of protein, grades 6-8 must be served between 9-10 ounces of protein per week, and grades 9-12 must be served 10-12 ounces of protein per week.
The milk component has also been changed. Schools are now required to serve only low-fat (1 percent) or fat free (skim) white milk and only a fat free (skim) flavored milk may be offered.
In addition to these regulations, there are now calorie, fat, and sodium targets that must be met. K-5 students need to consume an average of 550-650 calories per day over a week period with an average of no more than 640 mg of sodium per day for the week. Grade 6-8 students need to consume an average of 600-700 calories per day over a week period with an average of no more than 710 mg of sodium per day. Grade 9-12 students need to consume an average of 750-850 calories per day over a week period with no more than 740 mg of sodium per day. No meals averaged over the week are to have over 10 percent of the calories coming from saturated fat and there are to be 0 grams trans fats.
A student is required to choose a minimum of three of the five components offered to be considered a reimbursable meal, but one of those components must be a full 1/2 cup serving of a fruit or a vegetable. If the student would like to choose four or five of the components, they are welcomed and encouraged to do so.
Changes in the breakfast guidelines do not go into effect until next school year.
“For this year, schools are required to serve the following components: fruit or vegetable (1/2 cup serving), milk (1/2 pint), grain (1 ounce) and/or protein (1 ounce). The same fat requirements are in effect for breakfast as there are for lunch,” said Brei. “A student must choose a minimum of three of the four components offered to be considered a reimbursable meal. If the student would like to choose all four components, they are again welcomed and encouraged to do so.
“With all of the regulations and guidelines in mind, it becomes a very big balancing act to try to find foods that meet the regulations, yet are still acceptable to the students’ palette and still fit into our budget,” stated Brei. “Districts receive $2.86 in reimbursement for each free lunch and $1.85 for each free breakfast that is served. With this money, we pay for food, supplies (including napkins, soap, sanitizer, towels, wash cloths, etc.) labor and benefits, purchases services (pest control, general maintenance of equipment), health inspections (two are required per year), equipment repairs and purchase of new equipment, and upkeep on the vehicle we use to transport food.”
Brei stated the school districts are required to serve food that meets DPI and USDA guidelines in order to get reimbursement funding-but students are not forced to eat the food that is provided.
“There are certain things kids just don’t like, so schools will have to try to offer a variety of choices so students can find something they like,” commented Brei.
Many students choose to only eat parts of their meal, while the rest gets dumped into the garbage. In Clintonville, there is no compost operation currently in place.
“The elementary has paraprofessionals in the cafeteria watching the students and releasing them for recess,” Brei explained. “The rule of thumb is that they must sit at least 10 minutes after they have received their lunch tray before they may be excused. If the student has not eaten anything, the staff will encourage them to at least try something before they are released for recess-but they can’t force the kids to eat their food.”