Leaner lunches with more fruits and vegetables greet Jackson County students heading back to school
Leanne Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
JACKSON, MI – While your kids were enjoying their summer vacation, their school lunches were getting a makeover.
There still will be plenty of food on their trays when classes resume Tuesday, and favorite foods such as hot dogs, nachos and pizza are still on the menu, said Patti Russell, Northwest Community Schools’ food service director.
But overall, the meals will be leaner, feature larger portions of colorful fruits and vegetables, offer whole grains and have less sodium and calorie limits based on age.
It’s all due to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which directed an update to the National School Lunch Program for the 2012-13 school year. And it’s prompted what federal officials have said is the biggest update to school food guidelines in 15 years.
“We knew this was coming and we’ve tried to be proactive in getting on the ball with changes,” said Brant Russell, Jackson Public Schools’ food service director. “We’ve been taking baby steps here and there, so we think the transition won’t be as difficult as some people are thinking.”
The biggest change students will notice is that their portions of meat and breads will be smaller and their servings of fruits and vegetables will be much larger, making up about half of their lunch tray now.
In the past, students could decline taking a fruit or vegetable with their meal, but that’s not the case anymore. Now, for schools to get reimbursement for meals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, each child must take at least a half-cup serving of them every day.
“We want kids to choose those fruits or vegetables instead of us having to put one on their plate, which is what we will do,” Patti Russell said. “If they choose something, they’re more apt to eat it. And we’re going to offer a variety of things for kids to choose from.”
The Russells, husband and wife, work for Taher Inc., a Minnesota-based food management company that serves JPS and Northwest. However, a majority of school districts in Jackson County have self-operated food programs.
In JPS buildings, students will be able to choose from five different vegetables or fruits every day, including red peppers, broccoli, baby carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, jicama, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, melon slices, strawberries, fresh pineapple, pears, peaches, apples and kiwi.
Romaine, spring greens and spinach are the preferred greens for salads. Pizza crusts, pasta and breads will be made from whole grains and at least 50 percent of all grains served must be whole grain. All flavored milk must be fat-free and unflavored milk must be low fat (1 percent) or fat free.
“We’re trying to do a lot of things to educate parents,” Patti Russell said. “We’ve sent out fliers and put information on our school website. We hope this will be a positive transition.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law this year by President Barack Obama, has been championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move!” campaign.
According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35.7 percent of Americans are obese. As a state, Michigan ranks No. 5 in the nation with 31.3 percent of adults being obese.
“As Americans, we eat too much protein, too much bread and too large of portions, and we’re culturally opposed to change that,” Brant Russell said. “This is a way to re-educate us toward healthier options, and it’s not just for children, it’s for adults as well.”
New School Lunches
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has prompted what officials say is the biggest revamping of school lunches in 15 years. Here’s what kids will be seeing on their school lunch trays this year.
Kindergarten through eighth grade
- Fruit – one-half cup daily.
- Vegetables – three-quarters cup daily.
- Meat or Meat Alternative – one ounce daily.
- Milk – 1 cup daily.
- Grains – 1 serving daily.
- Calories – 550 to 650 per meal for K-5, 600 to 700 for 6-8.
Ninth through 12th grades
- Fruit – 1 cup daily.
- Vegetables – 1 cup daily.
- Meat or Meat Alternative – 2 ounces daily.
- Milk – 1 cup daily.
- Grains – 2 servings daily.
- Calories – 750 to 850.
Other weekly requirements
- Dark green vegetables (broccoli, romaine, spinach, greens) – one-half cup for K-12.
- Red/orange vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, squash) – three-quarters cup for K-8, one-and-one-quarter cup for 9-12.
- Starchy vegetables (white potatoes, green peas, corn, edamame) – one-half cup for K-12.
- Other vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, cucumbers, onion, peppers, celery, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms) – one-half cup for K-8, three-quarters cup for 9-12.
- Legumes (all varieties of beans, lentils) – one-half cup for K-12.