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While contentious school lunch guidelines have eased, changes will not be seen immediately

Erica Ellestad of the Willmar High School food and nutrition services sets out a bowl of fruit Wednesday for students to select from during their lunch period. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Don’t expect school lunches to change right away, even though the U.S. Agriculture Department has agreed to loosen restrictions on meat and grains served in schools.

Minnesota school districts have been told to wait until they receive official rules before changing menus, said Annette Derouin, who heads food services programs for the Willmar, New London-Spicer and Montevideo school districts and Community Christian School in Willmar.

Once the new rules are distributed, menus aren’t likely to change all that much anyway, Derouin said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“The calorie limits will stay in place,” she said, and the menus developed by her department are already at calorie limits.

The calorie limits and maximum levels of meats and grains were implemented in school lunch guidelines that went into effect at the beginning of the school year. The guidelines were implemented nationwide with the goal of fighting childhood obesity. They also required that students be offered fruits and vegetables daily.

To make meals fit the new guidelines, Derouin and her staff had to limit access to extra bread and to condiments that had been more readily available in the past.

Almost as soon as school started, though, complaints were lodged around the country about the limited amount of food available for school lunches. In some communities, students went on strike, wrote blogs and made videos about the new lunch rules. The Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board heard about it from the board’s student representative.

A group of U.S. senators wrote to the Agriculture Department complaining about the rules, and the department announced last weekend that it would lift some restrictions. However, the restrictions are lifted only for the remainder of this school year, and not all restrictions are gone.

“We were struggling to stay within the calorie limits before,” said Derouin, who is a licensed dietitian. Calorie limits range from 650 calories per lunch for elementary students to 850 calories for high school students. Menus developed by her department are usually within a few calories of hitting the maximum.

“We will look at where there’s room to add,” she said, but she doesn’t expect changes to the menus before January.

Derouin said she received no complaints about elementary lunches, but did hear from some parents of high school students who said their kids weren’t getting enough to eat.

With her own high school-aged children, she said, she sends snacks for them to eat before their after-school activities. She suggested that to the parents who called with questions about the new guidelines.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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