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Students seeing more colorful lunches

Fifth graders Dafnay Betanzes and Madison Carey say they like the fruit and vegetable options now available at lunch. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Park Rapids students are experiencing changes to their school lunches this month as the district moves to comply with the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Food service director Tom Marcussen updated the Park Rapids Area School Board Monday night on some of this year's changes.

He said the biggest difficulty has been keeping meals within a very small calorie range window. Lunches must be between 550-650 calories for K-5, 600-700 calories for 6-8 and 750-850 for 9-12. In the past, dietary specifications called for minimum calorie levels per week.

Fruits and vegetables are more prevalent in the meals and include more colorful options, with yellow, green, red and orange required. Lesser amounts of grains and proteins are on the menu.

The new standards are administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, although it is a federal program.

Schools that meet the requirements are eligible for reimbursement of six cents per meal, Marcussen said. He wants to make sure the district is in compliance so it won't lose that reimbursement.

Marcussen has been working with six other districts in the area to brainstorm ideas for menu items kids will want to eat.

"This is the biggest change in food service in 30 years," he said.

Next year, breakfast will also have new requirements.

Student reaction has been mixed but for the most part, Marcussen said, they know why the changes have occurred.

"Mrs. Obama's name comes up a lot so they are picking up some things from home," he said.

Kayla Brock, Dafnay Betanzes and Madison Carey, fifth graders at Century, said they have noticed more fruits and veggies on the menu.

"It's a lot healthier," Carey observed.

They liked Monday's side dishes of carrot sticks with ranch dipping sauce and grapes.

Marcussen has seen some students who throw away some of the food and he said it's hard to watch. But he suspects that attitudes will change.

"I don't want to watch a kid walk away hungry," he said.

School board member Dennis Dodge said school districts across the country are going through the same issues.

The district has received grants of $2,500 for each of the next two years, some of which will be used for training. The grants are based on the number of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunches.

Lunch prices have increase10 cents, to $1.95 for K-4, $2.05 for grades 5-8 and $2.25 for 9-12.

Last year's requirements called for ½ to ¾ cup of fruits and vegetables combined per day. Kids could eat two fruits if they chose, and no veggies.

This year, kids are served ¾ to one cup of vegetables plus ½ to one cup of fruit. And there is 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 - could be on the menu, as will red peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, which all fall into the red/orange category.

Kids are expected to experience a range of beans as well from white to black and garbanzo to chickpeas.

Starches could include the root veggies cassava and taro 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 closely.

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

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

Other requirements include half of the grains be whole grain-rich. At least half the grains must be whole grain-rich this year and by 2014, all grains must be whole-grain rich.

Only fat-free (flavored or unflavored) and unflavored low-fat milk is served.

Board members agreed that change is hard but thought that in a few years this will be the norm.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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