Schools grapple with new rules for lunchNew USDA lunch regulations have created challenges for schools
By: Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages
Changes to federal school-lunch regulations have created new challenges for menu planners and left some students wondering where the rest of their lunch is, but at least one food service worker in Rosemount is all for the new-look lunches.
The changes implemented this year by the United States Department of Agriculture set limits on the calories schools can serve students at lunch and established new rules regarding the number of breads, vegetables and proteins on the menu, among other things.
The new maximum number of calories is lower than the minimum Independent School District 196 used before.
“Kids are kind of standing around looking for something else,” said Wendy Knight, the district’s coordinator of food and nutrition services. “I think the kids were used to another side, besides the entrée.”
The new rules are the biggest change in years for school food service workers. They throw out the food pyramid that had long been the foundation for menu decisions. Where that pyramid had breads and grains as one of the most important parts of the menu, those items now play a much smaller role.
The new rules also change the definition of a full meal. Now, if students don’t have fruit on their tray they will be charged ala carte prices for each item they pick up for lunch. That difference can mean added costs for parents whose students refuse to take fruit.
Knight said the district prepared for that change by keeping servings of dried fruit near their registers so they can drop one on the tray of a student who doesn’t have the fruit they need.
“We had lots of dried cherries, which are very, very good,” Knight said.
Knight understands the reasons behind the new rules. She likes the idea of encouraging kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. But she sees little evidence in District 196 of the obesity problems that have become an issue elsewhere.
“It’s hard for me to always walk the walk and talk the talk,” she said.
All of the new rules have also taken some of the creativity out of the menu planning process, Knight said. Planners used to be able to add in the occasional special treat, but now the ceilings on the amount of proteins and the number of calories on the menu make that more difficult. Adding to the challenge is the fact Minnesota districts made commitments to buy food before they knew what all of the rules were.
“We had to manipulate our menus to use the commitments we already had to meet the requirements,” said Barb Griffiths, the district’s food and nutrition supervisor. “It became a challenge.”
It’s been a challenge at the school level, too. But it’s a challenge Rosemount Elementary School kitchen manager Shannon Morrison has been happy to take on. Morrison has a lot to keep track of on a day-to-day basis. Under the new rules, certain kinds of sandwiches are allowed some days, but not others. And she spends more time than she used to encouraging students to load their trays with fruits and vegetables. At Tuesday’s lunch she had a big bowl of bean salad she offered to each of the students who came through the line. Some of them took it. Some didn’t. Morrison thinks it’s just a matter of educating students and convincing them to try new things. She said she’s already seeing more fruits and vegetables on students’ trays, and that makes her happy.
“It takes more work, but it’s worth it,” Morrison said.