Bradley County Schools supervisor of nutrition Emily Brown said the school system’s lunch offerings will be changing in the coming school season to comply with new federal school nutrition regulations.
The new regulations are U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards as part of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” The legislation moves away from using the traditional food pyramid as the nutrition standard, and to the new USDA Choose My Plate model. The changes took effect July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
“I’m excited about the changes,” Brown said.
The school system prepared students for the changes last year with its “Go, Slow, Whoa” program.
The program was used to teach children which foods are healthy (Go), which should be eaten in moderation (Slow) and which should be eaten only occasionally (Whoa). Brown said the program was a joint effort with Coordinated School Health.
Under the new plan, schools across the country will be required to offer five components at every lunch — milk, meat (or an alternative for vegetarians), fruits, vegetables and grains. New regulations also state the schools will not receive federal reimbursement for any meal where a child does have at least three of the aforementioned healthy options.
In developing the menu, Brown said she focuses on what she thinks children will eat and what will look appealing while they are going through the lunch line.
Brown’s pet name for the policy of offering these choices is the “Golden Rule.” Brown said she thinks of the new regulations as offering students the healthy foods that she would want her own students to eat.
The new guidelines require offering a wider variety of vegetables and more whole grains.
“At least half of the grains must be whole grain-rich beginning July 1, 2012,” according to the regulations.
Brown said many of the breads already offered at BCS are whole grain. She is also looking into whole-grain pizza crust. Schools will be required to have a vegetable from each of the different USDA specified sub-groups over the course of a week.
Movement toward the new requirements also started last year when the school begin using only unflavored low-fat or fat-free milk.
The requirements for the amount of fruits and vegetables to be offered has also changed. According to the new regulations, schools will now have to offer 3/4 to a cup of vegetables and half a cup to a cup of fruit each day. New regulations also place limits on the amount of sodium, fat and calories that can be offered at lunch. Sodium requirements will be phased in with the first taking effect in the 2014-15 school year.
“What I really think we’re going to have to do is go back to the basics of making food from scratch and controlling the sodium,” Brown said.
At the end of the school year, Brown monitored the success of the “Go, Slow, Whoa” program by observing students’ choices in the cafeteria and how much of the healthy options they actually ate.
“Kids are eating fruits and vegetables. They are getting the choices and they are consuming them,” Brown said. “So I hope that that continues next year.”
Brown said students and their families have already begun talking about healthy options being outlined at the schools.
“Instead of the parent having to make the choice for the student, they’re making choices together,” Brown said.
Next school year, Brown said her department hopes even more parents will join the discussion.
Brown said parents of student in any grade are welcome to come to the school and see what is being offered in their childrens’ school cafeteria. She said her goal for next year is to ensure that parents know the options available to their child.
The changes in regulations are also bringing changes in equipment. These come in the form of a salad bar at Ocoee Middle School and portable fruit and vegetable lines at Oak Grove Elementary School. Brown said the system is also purchasing several new registers and a new serving line for North Lee.
The school system is also installing new ovens which cook using steam and heat at Charleston Elementary.
Brown said the nutrition staff work together systemwide to share what is working at the schools and improve all the programs.
“We are very much a family and we come together to meet these guidelines,” Brown said.
“I’m proud of our program and I want parents to be proud of our program as well,” Brown said. “I want it to be a combined effort.”
The cost of school lunch is set to go up by 5 cents.
Bradley County Schools Nutrition Services