With students nationwide set to be introduced to a revamped school lunch menu this fall, Long Island school nutrition directors are scrambling to meet the new federal requirements and anticipating backlash from kids and parents alike.
The changes are part of a healthy school lunch initiative put forth in January by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. New guidelines establish calorie and sodium limits for meals, require schools to offer a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and mandate all milk be 1 percent or nonfat. Requirements for the use of whole grains are also being phased in.
Additionally, in order for a school lunch to qualify as a "reimbursable meal" or be eligible for a free or reduced price, students must have a fruit or vegetable on their tray, according to the Observer-Dispatch. Previously, students needed only to take three of the five items offered.
The new federal demands represent the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in over 15 years.
“Students will definitely notice a difference,” Holly Von Seggern told Farmingdale Patch. Von Seggern is the vice president of marketing for Whitsons Culinary Group in Islandia, N.Y., which serves 20 Long Island school districts. She said the company has recommended parents serve whole grains and more fruits and bean dishes during the summer to prepare their kids for the changes.
Describing how a school lunch plate will look come September, Von Seggern said students will notice a smaller burger and more vegetables, with a smaller bun and smaller portions.
According to Levittown Patch, some school leaders expect children and their parents to find the portions insufficient for hungry teens. Thus, officials are preemptively mailing out information this summer to explain the changes and recommend what parents and students can do.
Long Island isn’t the only city bracing for sweeping changes to its school lunch program. In July, thousands of school chefs, food service workers and nutrition experts gathered in Denver for the annual School Nutrition Association conference. Many schools represented at the conference have switched to cooking meals from scratch, thus making use of more fresh local fruits and vegetables as opposed to processed foods.
“Ten or 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have seen a salad bar, a fresh fruit and veggie bar, homemade pasta salads,” said Theresa Hafner, executive director of the food services department for Denver Public Schools. “You probably wouldn’t have seen homemade biscuits, or homemade hamburger buns, made with a white whole-wheat flour.”