Back-to-school time this year means schools gearing up for “historic” changes that will mean healthier school lunches next fall, said Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary.
That includes Maine schools, many that are making changes before the law takes effect, said Gail Lombardi of the Child Nutrition Services in the Maine Department of Education.
Many schools have stopped serving 2 percent milk, opting for 1 percent or skim, she said. Popular chicken nuggets made with fat- and salt-laden processed meat are being replaced by nuggets made with whole, lean chicken. And more schools are serving whole wheat pizza without the fatty pepperoni, Lombardi said.
During a national telephone news conference Monday, Concannon said the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 passed by Congress and President Obama is “a great win for the nation's children.”
Healthier, less fatty food is needed, he said. Nationally, one out of every three children is overweight or obese.
Concannon, a former Maine commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services under Gov. Angus King, said the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will govern federally subsidized school lunch and breakfast programs. The mandate for schools will be to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, less fat, sugar and salt. Existing regulations call for minimum calories in school meals. The new rules will limit calories to what youngsters are expected to burn.
The program will also streamline the application process for free and reduced lunches, decreasing the number of hungry students, Concannon said. Since better food often costs more, the new rules will give schools more money. Schools that show they've made the changes will qualify for 6 cents more per meal per student, Concannon said.
Concannon said he doesn't know how the new law will survive upcoming federal budget cuts, but both political parties support the changes. “People know it's important.”
Auburn School Department Food Services Director Paula Rouillard said the new rules will mean more paperwork for food directors. Meeting less sodium rules will be challenging, she said.
But she likes the mandate of a bigger variety of balanced school meals, something Auburn schools have already begun, Rouillard said. Auburn schools are offering more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, she said. “We have made significant strides in the past three years.”
Throughout Maine, many schools “are already taking steps to improve” meals with more whole grain, salad bars and a variety of produce, Lombardi said. Some schools have begun buying reduced sodium food.
But more schools will have work to do, including planning new menus assuring enough variety of vegetables is offered, she said. “Another change I see will be reducing the calories,” Lombardi said. “Some schools add a dessert just to hit the (required) calorie number. There will be more thoughtful desserts.”
Award honors institutions providing good food, exercise
Schools that want to make more healthy improvements for students before a new law is implemented should look into the Healthier U.S. School Challenge, an honor given to schools that provide healthy food, nutrition education and lots of physical exercise, said Kevin Concannon, under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Schools that get those awards do more than serve healthier food in the cafeteria, he said. They work to change the food culture through collaborative efforts to teach healthy food choices and exercise by involving school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, students and parents.
According to Gail Lombardi of the Child Nutrition Services in the Maine Department of Education, 22 schools in Maine have achieved the Healthier U.S. School Challenge honor. Four are the Turner Elementary School, the Turner Primary, the Green Central School and the Leeds Central School.
Another 25 schools have sent in applications through the Maine Department of Education, while 35 schools have applications being reviewed.
Other schools that have committed to apply include Lewiston, Auburn and Rumford, Lombardi said.
For more information: http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/healthierus/index.html