Posted October 26, 2012

Change is never easy, but some changes are harder to swallow than others.

This fall’s returning schoolchildren saw some of the biggest changes to their lunch programs in decades. While new federal guidelines aim to make meals healthier by, for example, limiting sodium and calories, some parents and students were left with a sour taste in their mouth.

“With the new guidelines, the big issue was trying to fight childhood obesity ? and to ensure that meals are healthy, well-balanced and provide the students the nutrition they need to succeed at school,” said Connie Jopp, nutritional services supervisor for St. Cloud school district.

This year, schools are offering more varieties of fruit, dark green and orange vegetables, dry beans and peas, whole grains and low-fat and fat-free milk in their lunch programs based on new rules established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But many students argue the choices are too limited, and parents complain to school officials that their children are hungry or have to pay extra for foods they prefer.

“It’s really just not fair to athletes who have sports right after school ? just to get the lunch and not have a la carte or a snack before sports is really not enough to keep you going,” said Cami Doman, an eighth-grader and vice president of the student council at Sartell Middle School.

“Throughout the day, you’re still really tired because you don’t have that, like, kind of ‘fuel’ between meals to get the energy you need,” said Doman, who plays a variety of sports including volleyball, hockey and softball.

Fighting obesity

The national legislation that changed school lunches took into consideration recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, “which aims to decrease childhood obesity and related diseases by increasing nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”

“It does offer a wide variety with fruits and vegetables and milk and proteins and grains and then trying to control the fats and the portion sizes,” Jopp said. “Yes, the calories (that are now allowed) did decrease, but I think they are still sufficient for the age groups that we’re serving.”

BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily) is a coalition of medical professionals, policymakers, educators, health care advocates, and parents who are committed to improving the health of children in the St. Cloud area by reducing the epidemic of childhood obesity.

BLEND cites data from the American Heart Association when it points out that 1 in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese.

Doman understands the basis for the USDA guidelines. “Their minds were in the right place,” he said. “But I think there could have been other ways to do it instead of just cutting down, like, what we’re getting. They could have maybe given us better options instead of just cutting our options completely.”

Brenda Braulick is the food service director for Sartell-St. Stephen public schools, which serves, per day, about 3,300 lunches that now include calorie and sodium limits.

“The caloric levels do not mean that kids cannot eat more, but if they want more, they will have to pay more at the food line as it will be outside their regular lunch-tray option,” Braulick wrote in her letter to parents and guardians of the district.

“For example, children could have up to two slices of heavy, whole-grain bread and peanut butter on a daily basis with their lunch ? that has gone away because we can’t fit it into this (mandated) pattern ? so there’s been definitely push back with that.”

Kids who want to eat more have to pay for foods such as bread and peanut butter a la carte.

Braulick said grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy are all among the choices, but a child’s plate must include at least half a cup of fruit or vegetable or they will be charged a la carte pricing per item.

“Kids typically like protein, they like carbs,” she said. “Vegetables are really not a popular thing unless it’s a potato-type product, or it’s green beans or corn. Kids aren’t really excited about particular vegetables like spinach and romaine and kale ? squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes.”

Doman has seen more students carry a cold lunch since the changes began. He now carries a cold lunch.

“I barely saw anyone last year ever have a cold lunch,” he said. “I’d say half of the kids bring a cold lunch now.”

Changing patterns

Each year, schools serve more than 500 billion lunches via the federally funded National School Lunch Program, according to the School Nutrition Association.

“The health data out there is saying a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors is extremely healthy for our bodies,” Braulick said. “They offer different vitamins and minerals.”

The program, which has been serving the nation’s children for more than 60 years, requires school meals to offer both fruits and vegetables every day of the week.

“It’s a lot of change for our students, for our parents, for us as food service staff and directors to have implemented,” said Braulick, who ran a public awareness campaign and met with parents.

The government-mandated changes also include “substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods, offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties ? and increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, transfats and sodium,” according to the association.

Jopp said the number of parents who contacted her “directly” with concerns was a “very small amount” and tended to be from those who had children in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“Those students are growing during those years,” said Jopp, who suggested parents provide snacks and a high-protein breakfast.

“And their main concern was their child is healthy,” she said. “They’re athletic, and they were feeling they weren’t getting enough calories to carry them throughout the day.”

Jopp also has encouraged disgruntled parents to contact members of Congress about the federal mandate; the contact information is listed on the district’s website under “nutritional services.”

“In some respect, our hands are tied because this did come down from the feds,” Jopp said.

Said Braulick: “Basically, what we are telling parents and students is that we’re offering a wide range of fruits and vegetables and that has increased in portion size ? and hopefully the kids will consume them.”

The ultimate goal is to teach healthy eating habits that will carry into adulthood, providing children with life-long health and well-being, according to Braulick.

Mixed results

Braulick said she believes the intent of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is “good” but also believes it could do with some “softening” to make caloric and carbohydrate levels more flexible.

“There’s nothing I can do about the framework in terms of the minimum and maximum calories, carbohydrates, proteins. If we were not to fulfill those federal requirements, we would be financially penalized,” Braulick said.

That doesn’t satisfy Doman.

“We’re growing kids and by the time we roll around to lunch, we’re hungry. We don’t want a really small portion of whatever we are getting that day. We just need something to keep us going.”

Some schoolchildren are simply tossing the food rather than eating it, leading to concerns of wasteful spending and questions of how effective the changes are when the food is not eaten.

“We’ve had waste over the years, and I don’t think we have had a greater increase in food waste because of these guidelines,” Jopp said.

Braulick said, “If they took everything that was being offered, they would have a full tray, but what’s been happening is the kids will take a photo and send to mom and dad and say, ‘This is all I got for lunch today,’ which is really not true because they can take a lot more.”

From a cook

Nora Markfort, first cook at Madison Elementary School, said there are about 500 lunches a day at the St. Cloud school.

“For the elementary, things are not real different. We switched it down by one ounce of protein a week ? and we did cut down on the carbs,” Markfort said. “But I do understand where the parents are coming from in the junior and senior high levels as far as not getting enough carbs and proteins for the athletes.”

Markfort said the schoolchildren she has dealt with are becoming accustomed to the changes in the school lunch program.

“At Madison, they do well. They try a lot of different items,” Markfort said. “Is there a lot of waste? I don’t believe there is any more than what there was before.”

Braulick said school officials have asked feedback from middle and high school student council members about trying new menu options and recipes.

“We have been doing some creative things from the standpoint of in our a la carte area, we have bundled like the whole-grain bread and peanut butter and jelly, so they can buy that basically at our cost, so if they are hungry they can buy that for 50 cents,” Braulick said.

“I don’t think they realize when they were making that rule how small the actual portions are. I don’t think they put as much thought and experimentation into it as they should have,” Doman said.

School lunch program

The changes are from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and are part of an overall effort to make federally subsidized school lunches healthier for kids. Here are the requirements for school lunches:

Fruits: More daily servings of fruit will be offered.

— Grades K-8: One-half cup per day.

— Grades 9-12: One cup per day.

— Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice.

Vegetables: More daily servings of vegetables will be offered, including vegetables from subgroups.

— Grades K-8: Three-quarters cup per day.

— Grades 9-12: One cup per day.

— Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others.

Grains: At least half the grains offered must be whole-grain rich. Beginning school year 2014, all grains offered must be whole-grain rich.

— Grades K-5: 8 to 9 servings per week.

— Grades 6-8: 8 to 10 servings per week.

— Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 servings per week.

— Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain.

Meats/meat alternatives: New daily minimums and weekly ranges have been set.

— Grades K-5: 8-10 ounces per week.

— Grades 6-8: 9-10 ounces per week.

— Grades 9-12: 10-12 ounces per week

— Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases.

Milk: Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk.

— Grades K-12: 1 cup per day.

— Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options are allowable.

In addition to the above requirements that take effect this year, the federal government is for the first time imposing calorie and sodium limits on school lunch offerings. Dietary specifications (to be met on average over a week) are:


— By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed:

— Grades K-5: 640 milligrams.

— Grades 6-8: 710 milligrams.

— Grades 9-12: 740 milligrams.

— A timetable sets targets for further reducing sodium levels by 2022.


— No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No transfat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.

Total calories

— Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day.

— Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day.

— Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day.

— Calories can be averaged over the week.

For information on the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and new meal patterns, visit www.fns. Legislation/nutrition standards.htm.CQ

Source: BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily)

©2012 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)

Visit the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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