Age-appropriate calorie limits, larger servings of vegetables and fruits, a wider variety of vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk, more whole grains and less sodium are what students can expect to see on their lunch trays this year.
The new school nutrition program requirements are part of the federal program Healthy Hunger-Free Kids.
Breakfast is not affected under these requirements until 2013-14, explained Linda Ankner, school nutrition coordinator for the Douglas County School System.
“The United States Department of Agriculture wanted to focus on one meal at a time,” she said. “This year, students will see no change in breakfast.”
There are four entree choices for elementary and middle schools. They are: freshly made salad with fresh vegetables; a sandwich choice, a homestyle item, like lasagna and a contemporary item, such as pizza.
At high schools, students get a food court-style experience — the Deli, with fresh-made salads and sandwiches; the Express, hamburgers and hot dogs; the Main Event, traditional cafeteria fare; the Roost line, which features chicken; and a pizzeria, featuring healthier-choice pizza with whole wheat crust and low-fat mozzarella.
The biggest change at the high school level comes from how food is cooked.
“We are not frying anything any more in high school,” Ankner said.
Lowering calorie intake is a factor in the new nutrition requirements due to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity and increase in the diagnosis of Type II diabetes in school-aged children, she explained.
“In elementary school, we have requirements for protein and grains,” she said. “Those are smaller than in the past in order to control calories.”
Healthy eating often comes at a higher cost, as many families realize. The school system is looking at ways to keep costs down while providing nutritious food at a value.
One way is by looking at more cooking “from scratch” and by decreasing protein sizes to offset the cost.
Meal prices were raised slightly in anticipation of the new federal requirements, Ankner.
“We won’t see the full impact until a couple of months of school.”
A regular priced lunch in high school and middle school is $2. Elementary lunches cost $1.80. Reduced price lunches are 40 cents at all grade levels.
“I think school lunch is the best deal out there,” Ankner said.