New fruit and vegetable guidelines go into effect this fall for school lunches
WILLMAR -- Hungry teenagers will need to fill up on fruit and vegetables and not bread when new school lunch guidelines launch this fall.
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, passed by Congress in 2010, set out minimum and maximum amounts of food and calorie counts to be offered in meals eligible for federal reimbursement.
The guidelines were designed to combat childhood obesity and teach children healthy eating habits. School districts that meet the new rules will be eligible for an additional 6 cents in funding for each qualified meal they serve.
For Willmar's schools, that's an additional $35,000 a year that can be used to purchase the food needed to meet the new rules, according to Annette Derouin, director of food and nutrition services for the Willmar School District. Derouin also oversees food programs for the New London-Spicer and Montevideo school districts and Community Christian School in Willmar.
"We have to submit every menu in the entire district to be eligible," she said, so she and her staff reworked menus over the past two months and finished certifying 36 of them last week.
Derouin, a registered dietitian, has worked for years to bring down fat, sugar and sodium levels and increase whole grains and fresh foods in school meals for some time.
In the past, she had guidelines for the minimum amount of food that must be offered. The new guidelines include strict guidelines for the maximum amount to offer and for calorie ranges.
The law requires that the meals contain no trans fat and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. Her menus already met those guidelines, so that wasn't a problem, she said.
Along with the new guidelines is the challenge of develop a menu that students will eat, she said. "We want to make sure they don't walk away hungry."
Some of the other changes are likely to be noticed by Willmar students this fall.
Sliced bread will no longer be available. Some students have used it to supplement a meal in the past, but it won't fit into the guidelines, she said. Cheeseburgers will be available on the high school's grill line only once a week. Bread items like buns and garlic toast will be smaller.
The grill line will also include more baked items and fewer fried foods.
Pickles and jalapeno peppers will no longer be offered. Derouin said she had to choose between dip for vegetables or the pickles and jalapenos. "We tried to keep them," she added, but they wouldn't fit in the nutritional guidelines.
Students will be offered fruits and vegetables at each meal, and they will have to take a fruit or vegetable or both every day to have a reimbursable meal under federal guidelines.
Students eligible for free or reduced-price meals must have a reimbursable meal each day. That's particularly important in Willmar, where more than half of the 4,000 students are eligible for free or low-cost meals.
The real focus is shifting to fruits and vegetables, she said. "What we're hoping is to see our students learn to take more and eat more fruits and vegetables."
The popular Farm-to-School program can continue under the new guidelines. Many of the locally grown products in the program are fruits and vegetables and will fit into the menu, she said, but it may be difficult to continue some of the special event menus built around holidays.
The September newsletter for the nutrition programs explains the new guidelines in more detail. Go to willmar.k12.mn.us and scroll down to click on Food & Nutrition under Quick Sections, then click on Healthy Family Newsletter.