Thursday, Sep. 06 2012 5:29PM
Federally-mandated fruit and vegetable requirements may be going to waste at district high schools
By Toriano Porter
When the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, school districts across the nation perked up.
The standards, in effect since July 1 of this year, added more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk to school meals. Schools are also required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories and trans fats in meals.
In addition, the new regulations limit how much meat or meat alternative (such as cheese or yogurt) and grains can be offered.
In Lee’s Summit, the R-7 School District’s nutrition services department had already worked to make the transition to meet the new federal school meal requirements prior to the mandated start date.
What they district didn’t foresee was some of the waste that would come along with the federal requirements, a mandate stemming from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law by President Barack Obama.
After an annual nutrition services report presentation to the R-7 school board Aug. 23, Jane Hentzler, the district’s director of nutrition services, was asked about the status of the transition to meet the new guidelines. Hentzler said the district had transitioned smoothly to abide by the new standards, but during the first week of school she noticed large sums of untapped fruits and vegetables going into the trash at several district schools.
The federal requirements mandate that each student have a one-half cup serving of fruits or vegetables on their tray for it to count as a federally reimbursable meal.
“Students aren’t eating the fruits and vegetables,” Hentzler said to the board, “especially at the secondary level.”
That the mandate isn’t going over well with high school students wasn’t lost on Amos Johnson, a Lee’s Summit resident with children at Lee’s Summit North High, Bernard Campbell Middle and Meadow Lane Elementary schools.
“If the kids are not sold on it they’re at the age to rebel,” Johnson said of high school students in general. “That becomes more of a sales job. How do you sale them on good nutrition versus wasting? Now it is becoming an issue of waste and that’s a political nightmare. Especially since (the economy tanked in) 2008; any kind of waste is going to be scrutinized. I would say that would have to definitely be reassessed.”
According to information provided by the district, the nutrition services department had been preparing for a transition to more healthy meal options for several years. For example, the district stated school cafeterias had already met before the start of the 2012-13 school year the requirement that half of all grains offered must be whole-grain rich.
District cafeterias had also been working toward the mandates regarding vegetables prior to July 1. The law states that vegetables from the following groups must be offered each week: dark green, orange/red and legumes.
Nutrition services previously offered sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli, spinach, legumes and other qualifying vegetables to students last school year.
To transition to the reduced-sodium mandates, district cafeterias have been using Mrs. Dash for seasoning in place of salt, and salt shakers and salt packets are no longer available to students.
Those federally-required changes can only help a student’s academic performance, Johnson said.
“I think it’s smart to be pre-emptive and proactive at getting more nutrition fed into the kids,” he said. “I see that more as a multi-beneficial supporter for health and academic performance. I think that’s the thing I would look at. You should be healthier, and if you’re nourishing the brain and getting the fuel right, academic outcomes should maintain or improve.”