Something to chew on
By JUDY SHERARD
With red watermelon, orange squash and dark green spinach, school lunches have gotten more colorful.
The fruits and vegetables students must add to their plates are the result of the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.
The act created significant changes in the National School Lunch Program. Changes to the breakfast program are expected next year.
Based on dietary guidelines for Americans, some requirements, such as fruit and vegetables, have increased, and others, such as starches decreased, said Shiela Brening, in her 35th year as USD 489 nutrition services director.
A large number of USD 489 students eat school lunches every day -- more than 90 percent of elementary students, 85 percent of middle school students and nearly 80 percent of high school students, Brening said.
"Our percentages are really good, I think, because we have a lot of choice. We have always done the offer program where we're not taking a tray and putting the food on it and handing it to them. We've always had the option of declining."
Each school level has choice bars that include a selection of fruits and vegetables.
"If they (students) came up through USD 489, this is not different," Brening said. "They've all had to take fruits and vegetables before."
Brening said there's always at least two vegetables and two fruits from which to choose.
However, now the vegetable lineup includes dark green vegetables -- romaine, spinach and broccoli, and red-orange vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and squash -- to reach the recommended weekly total of 3.75 cups of vegetables and 2.5 cups of fruits for elementary and middle school students and five cups each for high-schoolers.
"They always could take as many fruits and vegetables as they wanted. It's just that this year they have to," said Lorna Martin, head cook at Hays Middle School. "They don't have to eat it, but they have to take it."
In addition to the main dish, the middle-schoolers have a bar that includes turkey, ham or smoked turkey sandwiches, along with salad ingredients, Martin said.
Three base kitchens -- Hays High, Hays Middle and Roosevelt Elementary School -- prepare most of the main dishes that then are transported to the satellite schools.
Martin has been a cook at the middle school building for 27 years, approximately 15 of them as head cook.
This year, the school has a total of eight cooks. Though Martin arrives at approximately 5:30 a.m., the other cooks' day starts at 6:15 a.m. to prepare lunch for nearly 560 middle school students and 10 youngsters at Happy Days Daycare, and the main dish for 380 kids at Wilson.
The first group of students, sixth-graders, come to the cafeteria for lunch at 10:50 a.m.
None of the sixth-graders eating lunch earlier this month remarked on the smaller sized bread. However, taking more fruits and vegetables was making a difference.
Jaedon Pedigo didn't notice any difference except, "we have to have some fruit."
"They all taste good," Jordan Hern said of the lunches.
"They're really good. They're a lot healthier. More fruits and vegetables is good," Taylor Schiffelbien said.
While the amount of some fruits and vegetables is unlimited, starchy vegetables, such as corn and potatoes, are limited to one-half cup.
The amount of grains also has been limited severely, which is especially difficult for elementary students, Brening said.
"We have to do 8 ounces throughout the week, (and) no more than 9," she said.
That's not just bread. Pasta and rice also are included in the category.
"If we have spaghetti and meat sauce, if we want to give them a decent size of spaghetti, we can't give much bread," Brening said. "Because they are used to having bread with things like chicken and noodles, spaghetti and lasagna, we've gone to breadsticks that are 1 ounce breadsticks and cutting them in half because we know they can have a half ounce."
"We are serving the bread this year because the grains are limited," Martin said.
Students who used to take three or four breadsticks with spaghetti now get served just one.
"I think the grains were affected the most," she said.
Some students opt for a sun butter and jelly sandwich every day.
In previous years, the sandwich bun was 2 ounces.
"If one child had a sandwich each day of a five day week, they would have 10 ounces (of bread)," Brening said. "We have to make the buns 1.9 ounces (because) we can round it down to 1.75. Then if they have one every day for five days, they fall into the guidelines."
Since no manufacturer makes 1.9 ounce buns, HMS cooks, who bake the buns, form them into 1.9 ounce buns.
The hoagie buns used for sandwiches at Hays High were 3 ounces, which also would put a student above the 12 ounces a week limit if eaten every day.
"We've had to take the hoagie buns and actually cut half an ounce off either end," Brening said. "It's not the bigger product that they had last year."
The goal though is to educate students to make good choices.
"As they get older, they have more responsibility themselves as to what they're going to take," Brening said. "We're trying to get them ready for the real world, so once they get out, they'll be eating nutritionally and have a healthy life ahead of them. I think that's working out really well."