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School meals change with nutrition in mind

BY KATHLEEN FOXkfox@paduahsun.com

Local districts continue to adjust school meals to ensure students are fed complete, healthy meals every day.

The Let's Move program launched in 2012 as a offshoot of the National School Lunch Program places the emphasis on portion size and healthier food options such as fruits, vegetables and milk. The requirements to make lunches and breakfasts healthier, which have been phased in over the last two school years, will continue to change for the 2014 school year.

All pastas and other grain products in schools will have to be whole-grain rich, defined as 51 percent or more of whole grain, and the first ingredient has to be whole wheat or grain. Penny Holt, Paducah Public School director of nutrition, said the district currently uses 50 percent whole grain product and doesn't foresee major issues in switching the remain half to whole grain.

She said many of the whole grain products are popular with students including brown rolls, flatbreads, short slice Domino's pizza crust and honey wheat whole grain wraps.

"The healthier options are growing in popularity, especially with our younger kids who have become more familiar with them," she said.

Some complaints are based on the overall appearance of the healthier option, so the district also uses whole grain white items. Holt hopes more manufacturers will offer a larger variety of healthier options in the near future.

Holt said the greater challenge will be adhering to the stricter sodium guidelines with meals and higher nutritional value for snacks or a-la-carte items. Items that can be served other than those on the daily menu include baked chips and whole grain cookies but nothing with minimal nutritional value such as soda or candy.

In Paducah schools, every student receives breakfast and lunch for free as part of the free and reduced lunch program. A complete meal is comprised of five components: a meat or meat alternative, two or three fruit choices, two vegetable choices, non-fat white or chocolate milk or 1 percent, and 100 percent juice. The minimum for students to take is three of the five components, and one must be a vegetable or fruit product, according to Holt.

"It's a pretty full meal, America has gotten away from smart portion control," Holt said. "For any adult, with the items we offer, they would be full."

Sara Jane Hedges, McCracken County food services director, said the district already has success with many of its whole grain alternatives, including its pastas and pizza crusts. She said providers are working to formulate new options to meet the changing guidelines, and the district uses frequent taste tests for new items in the schools.

"We make a continued effort to serve good food that tastes good and meets all the regulations," she said.

Regarding concerns that new healthier guidelines have led to less filling meals, Hedges said McCracken County provides the maximum amount of calories allowed per week by the state. Like Paducah schools, the county district utilizes an offer instead of a serve program, where students are allowed increased choices rather than a set meal.

"I eat at all our schools and the high school twice a week, and if you take all the components, it makes for a very filling and hearty meal," Hedges said.

Other changes include stricter regulations to the amount of sodium in each meal, varying by grade level. The first change will being next fall with another new target in 2017, according to Hedges.

She said the change toward healthier a-la-carte options, which now have to provide additional nutritional value, will not be a problem because the district has already worked toward offering foods that meet those guidelines.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

Comments made about this article - 1 Total

Connie Breneman posted on: Sunday, May 11, 2014 11:24 PM

Title: my experience

I would have to go into the school and see for myself. About five years ago I ate in the city schools four days a week. It was pretty poor food. Few choices, the same menu almost every week. Mostly there was canned fruit and canned vegetables and instant mashed potatoes. There was Domino's Pizza every Monday with canned corn and canned oranges. The bread was always white. There was a meat "product" sometimes on a bun.There was a newspaper article with the head of the city schools lunch department supplying the information. I saw much food being thrown away. Some of the teachers I worked with could not eat the food and either bought a salad or brought their own lunch. So as I said, I would have to see it for myself.

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