A Fresh Produce Mandate Comes To District 833 School Lunches
The change is part of First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative to reduce childhood obesity.
Come September, District 833 students will be required to select a fresh fruit or vegetable option as one of their three lunch choices.
Fruits and vegetables are currently available, but students can choose to pass on them.
The new rules, to be phased in over a few years, will mandate low-fat milk and, for the first time, set limits on levels of salt and trans fats.
The district had foreseen comprehensive changes coming and has already increased the amounts of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables served to students, said Nutrition Services Director Barbara Osthus.
But she said the requirement to cut sodium levels in half would be a major change.
“Manufacturers are going to have to come up with food that (has) less sodium,” Osthus said.
While about half of the grains currently served to students are whole grains, within three years all will be, she said.
“We use a plain bagel right now, and within three years for sure—if not next year—they’ll have to be whole grain,” Osthus said. “It will be a different taste and a different flavor and a different texture for kids.”
The new rules were announced by Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia.
“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat and ensure that they have a reasonable balanced diet,” Obama said in a statement. “And when we are putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria.”
Funding Fresh Fruit
The new mandates will come with additional federal funding (6 cents per lunch) starting in October, but Osthus said she does not expect that to be enough to cover the increased costs of the school lunch program.
“My gut reaction is it’s going to cost more—fresh fruits and vegetables always cost more in labor because you have to prepare it, as opposed to opening a can—but I don’t have any specific data right now,” she said. “At budget time, which is in May of this year, we’re going to make a recommendation to increase lunch prices by a dime—the minimum increase.”
Currently lunches cost $1.70 in district elementary schools and $2 in secondary schools.
Fresh ingredients come with higher price tags, Osthus said, and last year the district spent and additional $100,000 on fresh produce—the district’s replaced iceberg lettuce with romaine and made the move to fresh potatoes, among other changes.
Osthus said she predicts the new rules to most dramatically affect middle school students. Currently, middle school menus mimic those in high school, but the maximum calorie count allowed by the rules is 150 fewer for middle schools than high schools.
“I think that’s interesting because (middle school students) are the ones who have this growing spurt, and they’re the ones who seem to be hungry a lot and keep coming back for seconds.”