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Feds propose changes to school meals

Marshalltown district will consider changes

T-R photoS by Lana Bradstream Lenihan Intermediate cafeteria cook Brenda Pappas takes some chicken out of the oven for the Thursday lunch.

The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) wants to give school districts in the country more flexibility when it comes to serving nutritious meals to students. In January, the department unveiled proposals that could reduce the guidelines school districts had to abide by under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stated the changes would reduce the cost of meals served and food waste.

Lynn Large, the director of food service for the Marshalltown School District, said if the changes go into effect, they are something the district would consider.

“If some or part of the new changes seem like a good fit for us, then we may choose to implement some of the flexibilities,” she said. “I do not anticipate the flexibilities to lessen the nutritional quality of the meals served in Marshalltown schools.”

The proposed changes include:

• Increasing the flexibility of vegetable subgroups, which will increase student vegetable consumption.

• Allowing schools to adjust fruit servings at breakfast to reduce the amount of waste.

• Giving schools the ability to expand the a la carte purchases for entrees.

• Providing schools with more meal pattern options.

• Reducing administrative review requirements if past nutritional performances were good.

The changes could make potatoes a regular vegetable side dish, introduce breakfast pastries and reduce the amount of fruit and give students the option of choosing more popular food items, such as pizza, off of the a la carte.

Large said when the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act – which was an effort spearheaded by then First Lady Michelle Obama – went into effect, there was an increase in the cost of the meal, particularly with the fruits and vegetables. She said one of the requirements was an increase of half a cup of produce, which was a significant cost.

“The changes under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 requires all students to take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch and breakfast whether they are planning to eat it or not,” she said. “This does in some cases translate to food waste. Over time, I believe we have seen greater acceptance of fruits and vegetables from students.”

Concerns from national public health and nutrition advocates are that the changes will make school meals far less nutritious than what they should be. The Food Service Department with the Marshalltown School District has two registered dietitians who plan the menus.

“We will definitely evaluate the nutritional content of meals as a consideration of our menu planning,” Large said.

Whether or not students and staff in the Marshalltown School District reaped health benefits from the Obama school menus is not something Large can evaluate.

“However, I can tell you that we’ve seen greater acceptance of fruits and vegetables by students,” she said. “Students are being exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables at school which is a good thing. My hope is that students will learn about healthy eating behaviors while they are in our cafeterias and that will translate to better health over their lifetime.”

The typical breakfast meal at a Marshalltown school includes whole grains, meat or a meat alternative, fruit and milk. The lunch normally includes all of the breakfast components, plus a vegetable. This translates to an average cost of $1.94 for breakfast and $3.34 for lunch.

“The average serving of fruit or vegetable can range from 10 cents per serving to 35 cents per serving so I anticipate this is where the biggest cost savings per meal could potentially occur should the district decide to implement the flexibilities proposed,” Large said.

The school meal proposals were entered in the Federal Register on Thursday, opening them for public comment.

TO COMMENT:

People who want to comment in favor of or against the proposed changes can go to www.federalregister.gov. The public comment period ends March 23.

THE HEALTHY, HUNGER FREE KIDS ACT:

• Reduced portion sizes in school meals.

• Limited milk to non-flavored skim or 1 percent.

• Set a minimum on vegetable, fruit and whole grain servings.

• Set a maximum on sodium, fat and sugar content.

• Provided resources for school districts to use local farms and gardens.

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com