SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAMS
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has dramatically changed the meals served in school lunchrooms. Although ROCORI still offers choices of meals, the nature of the food products is quite different than five years ago. Over the next two weeks, I would like to share some information related to the food service program in our school district.
Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the federal legislation. The emphasis of the program is to reduce calories, lower sodium intake, and encourage healthier eating habits. There is considerable freedom to encourage more fruits and vegetables for students while reducing fats, sugars and caffeine.
The nutrition program guidelines are wide-sweeping. Effective July 1, 2014, the guidelines also imposed restrictions on the snacks school districts can sell to students during the school day. The limitations affect the food and beverages sold in school stores, vending machines, fundraisers, a la carte lines and other locations during the school day. All of the items sold during the school day must meet the USDA nutrition standards as “smart snacks.”
LEGISLATION IMPACTS MOST SCHOOLS
For most schools, following the federal guidelines is not optional. Food service programs are, for better or worse, dependent on the U.S. Department of Agriculture financial support in order to operate.
Part of the support is federal reimbursement of free and reduced meals. Each meal meeting these guidelines receives federal funding. The state of Minnesota, last school year, eliminated reduced price meals to make the meal for all who meet the guidelines “free”.
Beyond financial support for meals, schools also become dependent on federal commodities—cheese, flour, peanut butter, butter, and other items. The greater the student free/reduced population, the more eligibility for commodities.
Schools with more students on free and reduced price meals receive more federal food service funding. A school with a smaller population receives less aid.
REACTION TO THE GUIDELINES
Although most of us understand the need for healthier choices, there has been dissatisfaction with the restrictions and limitations currently in place. Dissatisfaction, however, does not overcome the financial support and federal involvement directing the food service program.
Our food service staff, with guidance from Penny Hoops the Food Service Director we share with the Albany School District, has been working very hard to meet the guidelines and offer quality meals.
Over the last several years, there has been a greater acceptance of the requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. In the past, some of our students encouraged, but did not carry out, a boycott of the lunch program.
For the most part, though, people seem to understand that our food service staff and our administrators cannot change what we are required to do. Changing the legislation and USDA interpretations are the only real options for creating different meal requirements.
Over the last several years, we have offered school lunches when we have guests to the district present. This has included committee meetings, Chamber of Commerce or Civic and Commerce meetings, regional meetings, and other settings.
Most often, the adults are pleasantly surprised about the meals they receive with the options available. The groups often comment about the quality of the meals and the amount of food available for the meal—understanding that fruits and vegetables are offered in greater quantities.
In addition, this year our food service program has worked to restore the “Spartan Meal” option for secondary students. The Spartan Meal is an “upscale” version of the regular meal. It is slightly more expensive, but many of the students find this to be a good option.
The food service program affects nearly all of our students. With closed campuses across the district, we have very high levels of participation in our food service program.
Our staff works very hard to provide high quality, nutritious meals. They are always looking for ways to strengthen and improve the food offerings. Although there have been changes in the requirements over the last few years, we still believe we offer an excellent meal program!