School meals get less protein
Published: Thursday, December 6th, 2012
In 2010, the regulations for school lunches changed when President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) into law in December. The goal of the act is to improve child nutrition, end childhood hunger and fight obesity.
The act also authorizes funding and sets policy for the Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) core child nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), school breakfast programs, summer good programs, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Child and Adult Care Food Program.
HHFKA creates $4.5 billion in new funding for these programs over 10 years. The act also has requirements for breakfast meals, but those will be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.
Lunchtime Solutions, Inc., manages food service for the Custer School district and 40 other districts in six states. The company received the contract for Custer schools after putting in a request for proposal based on specifications from the district and having it approved by the Custer school board.
“These new standards are fairly complex,” said Elliott Warshaw, regional manager who oversees 12 school districts in western Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota. Lunchtime Solutions has spent hours working and recreating menus in order to meet the new regulations. “We’re here to provide the kids with nutritious meals. It’s proven when a student eats, they do better.”
These changes will be phased in over the next three years so it will be easier for schools to comply. To help pay for these changes, the USDA has implemented the “six-cent rule,” which gives schools an additional six cents for every lunch served that meets the new standards.
This increase is the first above the rate of inflation in more than 30 years. In order to comply with these standards and earn the six cents, schools must undergo two food safety inspections each school year, as well as report the number of food safety inspections through 2015 and earn certification. The rules are inflexible and reimbursement could be jeopardized or withheld if schools are non-compliant.
“There will also be reviews every three years but not as an analysis of what is eaten, but what is offered,” Warshaw said. “Schools need to get in compliance. They’re either in or out. It’ll be tougher on smaller schools, since they don’t have the resources and staff. The really big school districts have the resources and ability to work well under the new guidelines. It’s definitely more difficult.”
With the new standards, students will have fresh fruits and vegetables every day of the week, whole grain foods and only fat-free or low-fat milk. Portion size will be adhered to and, once the program expands, the focus will be on reducing saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium. The new rules will also regulate what foods are sold in schools, including vending machines, the “a la carte” line and school stores.
Before HHFKA was signed into law, old nutritional standards had one-half to three-fourths cup of fruit and vegetables per day, with no specifications as to the type of vegetable; a daily minimum of one and a half to two ounces of meat (or meat substitute); eight servings of grain a week (one daily) with whole grains encouraged; and one cup of milk with fat contents allowed and flavor not restricted.
With the new changes, food service providers are required to include three-fourths to one cup vegetables plus one half to one cup fruit per day, with vegetables consisting of dark greens, red and orange vegetables, legumes (beans, peas), starchy vegetables and others outlined in the dietary guidelines and one cup milk, either fat-free or one percent low fat.
Grains and meats have also undergone major changes, the biggest being category changes for students. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are allowed a daily minimum of one ounce of meat (eight to 10 ounces weekly) and one ounce (eight to nine weekly) of grains. Students grades six through eight receive one ounce of meat daily (nine to 10 weekly) and one ounce of grain daily (eight to10 weekly). High school students (nine to 12) receive two ounces of meat daily (10-12 weekly) and two ounces of grains daily (10-12 weekly). At least half of the grains must be whole grain-rich. Beginning July 1, 2014, all grains must be whole grain rich.
“Student’s aren’t necessarily getting less protein, but the amount is defined,” Warshaw said. “Now we can’t serve more than a certain amount a week. It’s designed to push kids toward more fruits and vegetables than proteins and grains.”
Warshaw also said Custer schools are in an unique position since the schools are in a four-day school week instead of a five-day week, like the USDA accounted for.
“Our menus didn’t change much and in some cases the portion sizes increased,” Warshaw said. “We had to do some wrangling to meet the bread requirement. We’ve also had to be more aware of the calorie minimums and maximums.”
Before HHFKA, there were three planning categories for calorie content: traditional, enhanced and nutrient-based planning. The three categories varied in calorie content and split students up in different grades. Calories ranged from 633 (traditional) to 825 (enhanced/nutrient-based). Breakfasts were also in these three categories, with calories ranging from 544 to 774.
Calorie ranges are still split between three categories, but are more consistent and based strictly on food-based planning. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are allowed to consume a minimum of 550 calories but no more than 650 for lunches and a minimum of 350 for breakfast. Students in sixth through eighth grades receive a minimum of 600 calories but no more than 700 and a minimum of 400 calories for breakfast. High school students (9-12) receive a minimum of 750 calories but no more than 850 and a minimum of 450 for breakfast but no more than 600 calories.
“Before, once we hit the minimum we could offer more,” Warshaw said. “We offered peanut butter on bread for the kids and they loved it. Now there are maximums. It would be impossible to still offer that and be in compliance with the regular menu.”
Warshaw also said the school used to have pizza days with Pizza Hut supplying the pizzas, but it can no longer do that since the pizzas are not compliant with HHFKA.
“We’ve come across roadblocks along the way,” he said.
The new calorie standards also require zero grams of trans fat and limit the total saturated fats to less than 10 percent. Sodium standards will also be phased in over 10 years, with hopes of lunches having less than 640 mg for elementary students and 740 mg for high school students by the 2022-23 school year.
“The recipes we’ve created are good, solid and consistent,” said Brandy Popken, food service director for Lunchtime Solutions, Inc. “That’s a big deal to the students. There’s no lunchroom surprise like we had in high school.”
Warshaw and Popken have heard little feedback from students, but are planning to send out surveys later this month.
Other parts of HHFKA not directly related to school meals will help communities establish local farm-to-school networks, create school gardens, expand drinking water, set basic standards with school wellness policies, promote nutrition and wellness, increase the number of eligible children enrolled in school meals programs by 115,00 students, make information readily available to parents about nutritional quality of school meals and audits, expand USDA authority to support meals and provide training and technical assistance for school food service providers.
For more on HHFKA, visit the Department of Agriculture’s website at USDA.gov.
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