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Federal guidelines force schools to change USDA menu requirements

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Per the federal government, schools across the country are being required to change the ways students are eating. In an effort to put a halt to child obesity, schools are being forced to not only change the quality of food they serve but the portions.

Some of the biggest changes include students will now be required to have fruit or vegetables on their tray to count as a full meal, an offer versus serve option that gives the student a choice of components on the tray (a component is a food group – grains, meats, fruit, vegetables and dairy), the amount of food and calories offered at each meal – based on four different age groups and new regulations on lunch prices, which are required to be met over the next few years.

In addition to options, portion sizes will change, such as half a cup of fruit for children K-8 and a full cup for children 9-12. Three-quarter cups will be distributed to children in grades K-8 and a full cup to children 9-12.

According to a press release, the schools will be limited on how much meat/meat alternate (cheese, yogurt, peanut butter) and grains can be served. Previously there was only a minimum to be met; more could be offered. Now they must stay within a maximum and minimum requirement for each age group, which means entrees will be small than they once were.

Other changes already made include: half of all grains offered must be whole grain rich, this includes pizza crusts, corn dogs, pastas and breads. Vegetables offered must be from the following groups each week: dark greens, orange/red, beans, starchy and various others.

Schools only have until the 2014-2015 academic school year to meet the first level of sodium limits, which the schools manufacturers have been gradually lowering sodium in foods anyway. The school has also been reducing the amount of salt in their recipes.

Elsberry R-II School officials said they have been working diligently over the summer to meet the federal requirements and it has been quite a challenge to be creative in complying with the mandatory guidelines, while still providing menus that students will enjoy.

The school district asked that parents please be patient. It will take time for everyone involved, including students, to understand what is required for a reimbursable tray. They asked the parents to encourage their children to try new food items at home and at school and to remember that these requirements are law and not a decision made by the district.

For more information call 573-898-5554.