Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Federally mandated school lunch menus

"Children were not getting fat from school lunches around here. Matter of fact, some children need more calories from school because they can't get enough at home. I have to work hard for my chldren to get enough calories as it is. Now...
they come home and tell me they can't get enough to eat at school! "
"Another lean toward socialism"

Schools struggling to adjust to new menus:

PINCKNEYVILLE — Federally mandated changes to school lunch menus this year are getting mixed reviews from students and parents and leaving some administrators to wonder how they’re going to pick up the tab.
The new standards are part of President Barack Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in December 2010, and were a goal of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.
The standards lower the calorie counts and mandate a wider nutritional range of foods in students’ meals.
Lunches should be within 550 to 650 calories for grade school students, 600 to 700 calories for middle school students and 750 to 850 calories for high school students, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Portion size of meats has decreased, portion sizes and types of vegetables have increased and subcategories of vegetables have to be served on a weekly basis.
“Incorporating those into a menu that you can work on making successful with students has been a real challenge,” said Georgia Marshall, the food service director for Murphysboro School District 186. “Let alone the extra cost and time for prepping and storing.”
Even with more of an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches has only been increased by 6 cents for districts who comply with federal nutrition standards.
“The changes are wonderful, but it’s going to be costly,” Marshall said.
‘Just not enough’
Although Pinckneyville Junior High School parent Pamela Dudek attended an orientation this summer informing parents of the lunch changes, she didn’t realize what this meant for her daughter, Daisy, until the first day of school last week.
“She was starving, she was literally in tears,” said Pamela Dudek.
Daisy is a 5 feet, 8 inch tall seventh-grade softball player. Her mother is worried Daisy is not getting enough calories to sustain her during the day.
“I want her to go to school and learn and feel like she has enough fuel to sit there and stay awake,” Dudek said.
Now, Dudek has started sending additional snacks and Gatorade with Daisy to school to supplement the school lunch. Dudek doesn’t place blame on the school or the cooks, but on a “one size fits all” federal mandate.
“It’s just not enough,” Dudek said. “You absolutely can’t say this is going to work for everybody. I can definitely understand the concerns of somebody with a child who is obese or is a real junk food eater, but I don’t think that has anything to do with school. I would think that would be the parents’ responsibility at home.”
Little leeway
Tim O’Leary, superintendent of Pinckneyville School District 50, said he hasn’t heard a lot of complaints from parents yet, but he feels caloric portions would be an issue, especially with the older students.
“There’s not a lot of leeway in this program,” O’Leary said. “It’s ‘here’s what we’ve got, and here’s what we’ve got to work with.’”
O’Leary said in addition to the cost, he was concerned about the new lunch standards effect on students, considering, for some, it is the only meal they receive each day.
Murphysboro School District 186 Superintendent Christopher Grode said that when the government passes large mandates, they’re trying to enact positive changes. However, implementing those changes is often complicated on the ground level.
“I would have liked to have seen this get phased in a little more gently. It doesn’t take into account a lot of the variables,” Grode said.
On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI


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