When students walk through the lunch line this year, their tray is going to include something a few of them may not have selected in the past – fruits and/or vegetables. The addition of required food is part of new federal school lunch guidelines now mandated by USDA.
USDA has made significant changes to the school lunch program for the current school year, which are the first major changes to take place in more than a decade.
The method behind the new requirements is part of what is known as the Hunger Free Kids Act, which is part of the campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the United States.
Laurie Milbradt, Redwood Area School District food service coordinator for Taher Food Service, said the fruit and vegetable requirement has already been put in place this year.
According to the USDA requirements, students in Grades K-8 are required to have at least a half cup of fruit and three-fourths of a cup of vegetables per day, while students in Grades 9-12 are required to have at least one cup of fruit and one cup of vegetables each day.
The new regulations require food service programs to include a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red/orange, legumes and starches each week, which means being creative in finding sources to meet the standard.
Milbradt said she has been utilizing an area producer who is giving her the fruits and vegetables she needs to serve to the students each week.
Just recently she was driving from the producer’s location to the school with a car load of watermelon and cantaloupe to serve to the kids. She said the Farm to School program has allowed her to find the produce she needs locally, adding she thinks that is a good thing.
Milbradt said she sees the value in providing the healthier fruits and vegetables options, but said she knows it is going to be a challenge.
The reality is it is going to take students some time to get used to the new menu as well. All one has to do is look into the compost bin to see much of what is being offered is not being eaten.
Milbradt said the fruit and vegetable requirements are the first in a long-term process that includes other changes, such as a major reduction in the sodium being offered to students – cutting out nearly half of what was the standard.
Milbradt said schools have to prove they are meeting the requirements in order to receive financial reimbursement from USDA.
Milbradt said in advance of the requirements an online survey was conducted to take input about what should be implemented.
The USDA is hoping to create a lifestyle change among the next generation of students through these changes, and the hope is to help create healthier students who then are more productive in the classroom.