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Healthier School Lunches Causing Headaches for Districts

New federal guidelines mean changes that may not sit well at lunch time.

New federal demands for healthier school lunches are causing a summer scramble for Long Island school districts to meet the new demands.

The real impact will likely be felt during the first weeks of school in September, when many kids begin to notice smaller portions of meat and increased portions of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Across the region, and the nation, districts are struggling with both the need to match new guidelines and to communicate the changes to parents and students.

Districts are having to respond to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making the first major changes in school meal requirements in 15 years which, the government says, reflect the latest nutrition science and the circumstances of America’s schools.

The new federal guidelines require most schools to "increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat- free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements," according to the program's summary.

On the surface, the concept makes sense, but the changes are detailed and complicated.

For example, the new rules dictate the kinds of specific vegetables that must be provided, breaking down the components into items such as "red" and "dark green" vegetables. The rules generally lower the weight of the minimum daily requirements for meat in the lower grades.

And gone are the small packages of whole milk; now milk must be 1 percent or nonfat. Those tasty chocolate milk packages are history.

Long Island school nutrition directors are attending a seminar this week on how districts and their contracted food providers can meet the requirements, school officials said.

"Students will definitely notice a difference," said Holly Von Seggern, vice president of marketing for Whitsons Culinary Group of Islandia, which serves about 20 school districts across Long Island.

Whitsons has been preparing for the changes for almost two years and providing a range of new options for its districts to get kids used to the changes, Von Seggern said. They've even recommended that parents offer whole grains and more fruits and bean dishes during the summer to prepare kids for the changes.

In September, a school lunch plate will look different, she said. "They will notice a smaller burger and more vegetables," she said. The buns will be smaller, the portions different. 

Earlier this month, thousands of food service workers and nutrition experts from around the country gathered in Denver at the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association, where the new standards were a big topic of conversation, according to a July 11 New York Times story.

The U.S.D.A.'s report said the meal program changes are based on recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. It claims they are expected to enhance the diet and health of school children, and "help mitigate the childhood obesity trend," according to the federal report.

Local districts were expected to comply with the changes by July 1.

The impact, however, is likely to be heard during the opening weeks of school, when kids and parents begin complaining about smaller portions.

Some school leaders said they expect some children and, in turn, their parents, will find the portions insufficient for hungry teenagers. And while some school officials expect to hear complaints, they are plan to mail out information in advance to explain the changes  and tell parents and students can do.

One option, as always, will be to pack your own lunch. The federal government has no say on brown bagging it.

Ranger Sewer August 01, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Your CHOICE on what YOU want to EAT is also YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
walrus August 01, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Headache - really? I used to love volunteering during lunchtime for the kindergardeners & 1st graders. You wouldn't believe what they ate! Cookies, chips, JUNK!!. Their sandwiches were pushed aside and thrown in the garbage.
lauren August 01, 2012 at 12:47 PM
I have no problem with heathy school lunches but why does the Government need to dictate this too?? Last year the portions were ridiculously small. It's a choice, buy or bring. I think you will see many opting to bring more often or more un eaten lunches in the garbage! Just because you put it on the tray doesn't mean they will eat it, or is that mandated too?!?!
Laura Bart August 01, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Why not utilize our farm fresh food right here on Long Island and connect with the farmers in supplying the fruits and vegetables. Government mandated sounds like "mystery fruit" to me.
lauren August 01, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Government cheese!!! The "heathy" stuff they are putting on trays are probably more unhealthy. Great idea using local produce. It will never happen though!
Bill L. August 01, 2012 at 01:11 PM
You can all live in your fantasy world of nutrition but the simple fact is kids are going to eat what they want and the rest goes in the trash.Period. Why must the taxpayers fork over more money for "specialized nutritional" foods kids just toss out because they know when they go home they're heading to McD's,KFC or Burger King.
Mary Z August 01, 2012 at 01:27 PM
I too worked in the cafeterias. All sorts of good food ended up in the garbage whether it was brought from home or put on their trays! We are NOT sheep. We have free choice and kids are going to eat what they want or in some cases nothing at all. The government needs to butt out!
Gail August 01, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I can't believe there is even one person complaining about this! Have you heard about the obesity rates in this country?? The government is finally getting involved because no one else is taking a step to change it!! It's about time & why are people predicting what the food will be before we see it? Wait until the school year starts & then decide. Approach it with a positive attitude & you'll be surprised what kids can adapt to. Kids want to be healthy too. Crazy to me all these negatives for something so positive!
Jimbo August 01, 2012 at 03:24 PM
"The federal government has no say on brown bagging it".......YET!!!!!! You drones need to unplug the matrix cables from the back of your heads & wake the %uck up!!!
lauren August 01, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Just do away with school lunc program and brown bag it! Then parents can send in what they want their child to eat.
URAY Arnold August 01, 2012 at 05:07 PM
If you dont like what the Government dictates, leave.
lauren August 01, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Oh that's mature! LOL. We do live in the USA right? Not communist China. Maybe you should go there if you like the Government dictating what you do!
Brian August 01, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Finally. Truth and reason.
lauren August 01, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I'm not opposed to schools providing healthy lunches, I'm opposed to the government dictating everything. I'm amazed that ppl actually want the government dictating their lives. It's also amazing how much ppl lack commen sense and rely on the government on how to run their lives. Do you really think because the school gives your kid a tray full of healthy food that is going to solve the obesity problem? What will solve the obesity problem is parents getting a clue in how to raise their kids!
Laura August 01, 2012 at 07:57 PM
I remember when my kids were in school. I read the menu. We decided what they liked and disliked. If would not they eat the lunch, I would make a healthiy lunch for them. I found out they liked friday best. I. Gave them a good snack, after school. I cooked a good dinner for my family. The point is we did not need papa Obama, mama Michelle or Super Sized Nanny Bloomberg. Parents do not need the govt. We are pretty smart. Laura
lauren August 01, 2012 at 08:07 PM
I wish the government would just stick to the economy and creating jobs and leave parenting choices to the parents. They have bigger issues to deal with!
Mary Z August 01, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Lauren you make sense. Anyone in favor of this needs to go take a look at the stuff being served.... Disgusting! I truly don't believe that this new program is going to be any different! Simple solution - BROWN BAG IT which will work untill the so called "experts" will try and regulate that! It's no wonder why so many home school!
Mary Z August 01, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Lastly, if you haven't experienced the public lunch programs you shouldn't be commenting. I'm sure Obamas girls get gourmet lunches every day on our dime! Do they even attend public school?
Brian August 01, 2012 at 10:15 PM
Better food costs more money. Are the majority of parents willing to spend $3 a day on school lunch? I doubt it.
Mary Z August 01, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Brian - the school lunch price at the high school level is currently $2.75 in our district. I hear St. Anthony's has wonderful lunches for about $5-$10 a day.... We all need to start brown bagging. This will send them a message.... Why does better food have to cost more money? That has never made any sense to me.
Gail August 02, 2012 at 04:06 AM
The kids should have healthy food options...why should the government even have to get involved? The healthy portions & options should have been a no brainer but apparently due to the rising obesity epidemic - the government is forced to get involved since the common sense part doesn't seem to come naturally for whatever reason! People should brown bag it just to save money but since many parents don't seem to pack lunches... there also has to be a lunch program. I'm sure the districts would rather do away with the added expense otherwise...so if you all brown bag it to "send them a message" they will be just as happy.
Mary Z August 02, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Gail you make some valid points but I think the obesity problem is caused by a lot more then school lunches. The kids that eat poorly at school will do so at home. Parents have a constant battle with this. Walk down the food store aisles and look at a resturant menu. This is where the problems lie. It is a small step but should the government really be the ones implimenting this? Why haven't the school districts done something? Like I said the lunches to date are just plain bad.
Mary Z August 02, 2012 at 12:27 PM
My solution is brown bagging. I just pray that the government stays out of that bag though! My kids are all extremely thin so non-fat choices are out! They need to eat!
Gail August 02, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Mary, Yes I agree but if the parents aren't doing anything & the school districts to date haven't done anything then there is no alternative but for the government to get involved. No one else is addressing the problem & it is still growing (no pun intended). Parents do have a constant battle...I am one - I get it...but we are the parents. Let's do our job & healthy food is the way to go. I don't understand why anyone would object to a mandate to enforce healthy eating in public institutions when no one else is fixing the problem. If the lunches to date have been bad then let's make them better!
Linda Otta August 02, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Lauren- Ignore Uray Arnold. He is only validating the government DICTATES and forgets that the populace is in charge of the government. They work for us. Sadly, the government forgets this too.
Linda Otta August 02, 2012 at 02:19 PM
It will only cost us more and the free lunches expand, more people (46% more on food stamps with the current Presidency), I heard the cost of this years lunch is going up? Is this true? I have friends that are teachers. They say many kids on the free lunch program come in with money for snacks everyday but the lunch we tax payers provide goes in the garbage. Maybe the government needs to dictates to the free lunchers that you can't buy a snack if you food (being paid for by someone else) goes in the garbage especially if your parents can afford to give you @2 everyday for snacks.
Linda Otta August 02, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Brown Bag it all you want. Your still paying for hot lunch for a whole bunch of other peoples kids.
Mary Z August 02, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Linda - if that is the case then what do you suggest? We all have only one life with limited time. Should we waste it constantly fighting everything and every issue? We will brown bag it for the next two tears and pray that the gov't stays out of those bags and my kitchen!
Mary Z August 02, 2012 at 11:51 PM
One last comment - I don't ever remember anybody ever asking us (the parents) what we think the kids should be eating? We cook our children meals every single day and are truly the experts on what kids like to eat! Instead th have a so-called expert in charge calling the shots! So done with it all! Home schoolers have the right idea!
Lunchlady August 26, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Not to mention that the additional servings of fruit/vegetables that are required now on the meal has created additional prep time for the crew in the public high school kitchen I manage....districts in this ecomony are struggling financially and cannot always hire the additional staff needed to increase production....this will be a stressful school year.....

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