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Big changes to lunch: Park Rapids students will see more fruits, veggies

Century seventh grader Ben Garcelon is a regular salad bar customer. "It's healthier."

Park Rapids students in grades K-12 will experience "significant changes" on lunch plates next year, business manager Carol Hutchinson told the school board this week.

Fruits and vegetables will increase in amounts with veggie colors of the rainbow - green, red and orange - required.

"We will be spending more money on fruits and vegetables," Hutchinson told the board. "No question."

The new standards are part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, administered by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The district has received grants of $2,500 for each of the next two years, some of which will be used for training, Hutchinson said.

Kids will be reminded of importance of physical activity and gain an understanding of the effects of good nutrition, "to launch a lifetime of healthy choices." The grants are based on the number of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunches.

The changes will be more labor intensive for food service staff, Hutchinson said. Lunch prices may increase minimally. Current costs are $1.85 for K-4, $1.95 for grades 5-8 and $2.15 for 9-12.

The high school will receive a portable salad bar at no cost to the district as part of the USDA Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign.

The middle school salad bar has proven to be a "big hit," Hutchinson said, "especially with the boys.

"I'm excited about it," she said of instilling an understanding of eating well at a young age.

Current requirements call for ½ to ¾ cup of fruits and vegetables combined per day. Kids can eat two fruits if they choose, and no veggies.

Next year, kids will be served ¾ to one cup of vegetables plus ½ to one cup of fruit. And there will be a weekly requirement for "subgroups" - the dark green, red/orange, legumes and starchy varieties.

Kids may experience bok choy, collard greens, kale, mesclun and watercress, for example, as part of the dark greens.

Squash - acorn, butternut, pumpkin and Hubbard - will be on the menu, as will red peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, which all fall into the red/orange category.

And "others" range from A (artichokes and asparagus) to Z (zucchini).

Kids are expected to experience a range of beans - white to black and garbanzo to chickpeas.

The "starchies" include the root veggies cassava and taro - which sent staff Googling - as well as corn, green bananas, plantains, potatoes, lima beans and potatoes.

The food service will undergo audits, with fat intake and calorie value monitored, Hutchinson said.

Currently, dietary specifications call for minimum calorie levels.

Next year, calorie intake will be defined by a minimum and maximum, based on grade levels.

Grades K-5 will be served 550-650 calories for lunch and 350 to 500 calories for breakfast; grades 6-8, will see 600-700 calories at lunchtime and 400-550 at breakfast and grades 9-12 may ingest 750-850 calories at their noon meal and 450-600 calories at breakfast.

Saturated fat will continue to be limited to less than 10 percent of total calories.

Fresh, dried and frozen fruit will be served, with no added sugar. Canned fruit will be served, but with light syrup only. Only 100 percent juice will enter digestive systems via school meals.

Other requirements include half of the grains be whole grain-rich. Whole grains are currently "encouraged." Next year at least half the grains must be whole grain-rich and by 2014, all grains must be whole-grain rich.

Portions of meat or a meat alternate will have daily minimums based on grade levels, and with lower fat and sodium, Hutchinson said.

Only fat-free (flavored or unflavored) and unflavored low-fat milk will be served. Currently, a variety of fat and contents are allowed and flavor is unrestricted in the milk served.

This year's fresh fruit and vegetable grant proved a big hit with kids. Students in grades K-4 were introduced to a variety of nutritious snacks via the grant. The district has submitted an application for the program to continue, Hutchinson said.