New federal guidelines are shaking up school lunches for the first time in 30 years. It’s an effort to make it easy for students to maintain a healthy diet.
But the students aren’t buying it.
The new guidelines for school lunches went into effect in August, and school officials say complaints are up, sales are down—and the changes will cost the district more than a million dollars this year alone.
The healthier meals are a component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move! Campaign. The legislation authorizes funding and sets policy for the USDA’s core child nutrition programs, including school lunches and breakfasts.
The legislation requires limits on proteins and grains offered, based on grade level, Pasco Schools' Food and Nutrition Services supervisor Julie Hedine told the school board Tuesday.
Students must select a fruit and a vegetable, which make up about half the meal offered, Hedine said.
There are caloric limits based on the ages of the students that must be met, as well. Getting to those calories with a plate filled mostly by fruits and vegetables creates a challenge, she said.
“We are short on calories sometimes” because of the portion limitations on proteins and grains, Hedine said. That means adding in items such as pudding and chips to get the calories up, which is not something the federal government may have intended.
Implementing the changes is costing about $1.3 million more than what the government is providing in grants for the program, Hedine said.
Florida, was awarded $311,500 to help state’s schools meet the new requirements, according to the USDA’s website.
And while the district’s costs are going up, the number of students buying lunch is declining, because they don’t see the value in it, Hedine said.
Though the quality and ingredients are staying the same in some student and staff favorites—such as Zephyrhills High School’s calzones—the portion size has been cut in half, she said.
And students' choices are limited by the requirements.
“Even if students don’t like beans, they’re going to see them on their plate,” Hedine said.
The district is getting complaints from parents and administrators, but this isn’t just a Pasco problem, Hedine said.
Hedine said the district was already well on its way to healthier standards for school meals, but the hasty directives of the new federal guidelines has them scrambling at the moment.
Last time a major change was implemented, pilot programs were put in place at select schools, Hedine said. This time, the decision was approved in March and required compliance just a few months later.
Some schools are getting creative, setting up "share stations," where students can put unwanted items from their lunches in a cold area for students who are still hungry to pick up, Hedine said. Items left at the end of the week are donated to local food pantries.
Hedine noted that the decrease can especially a problem for those students who rely on school meals for the majority of their nutritional needs.
The standard answer to that is that if the student eats all the fruit and veggies they are offered, then they will have plenty of food, Hedine said.
What are your kids saying about school lunches? Let us know in the comments section.
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