Students will eat up whole grains, price increase
By JUDY SHERARD
Changes in school lunches this fall won't be dramatic, but some students might notice a difference.
"All of our grains are going to have to be whole grain rich -- not 100 percent -- but whole grain rich meaning 50 percent," said Jessica Younker, Hays USD 489 nutrition services director, who recently married and formerly went by Jessica Calhoun.
She estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of the school district's food items such as breads and pasta already meet the criteria.
Most of the dinner rolls and bread sticks have been whole grain, but cafeterias have served white noodles.
"Because the kids like the white noodles better, we stayed with that. But next year, they will be whole grain," Younker said.
A la carte items at Hays High School will be different as well.
The smart snacks in school rule, part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, puts limitations on calories, sugar, salt and fat in any extra items sold outside the meal program, Younker said.
At Hays High, that means changes are possible for nachos, pretzels, homemade desserts, soups and the frozen yogurt machine.
Younker said her department has been adjusting recipes, figuring costs and determining what kids will like since before school dismissed in May. The goal is to please kids while meeting the guidelines.
Cookies will be available in the usual flavors, "but we have to change the recipe a little bit to lower fat."
The nutrition services department is waiting to hear whether the self-serve yogurt machine meets the requirement. If disallowed, Younker said an alternative, such as cups of ice cream, is available.
The smart snacks rule, which goes into effect Tuesday, also applies to foods sold during the school day and up to 30-minutes after -- including concession stands, fundraisers and vending machines.
"Most of our concession stands are after the school day, so it doesn't apply to those," Younker said.
If they are open during school hours for tournaments and other special events, they can't be accessible to students.
Organizations can have one fundraiser exempted from the standards each semester, as long as it's not in competition with the school meal program.
They can get around the rule by changing the location or time of a fundraiser, she said.
Vending machines serving sodas and candy must be turned off until 30 minutes after school. Machines with items that meet the requirements, such as water and healthy snacks, will be turned on all day.
For at least the third year in a row, meal prices will increase by 10 cents for each category and meal.
"They want the paid meal prices to be comparable to the federal reimbursement rate for free meals," Younker said of the federal program regulating school meals. "The difference between that is $2.65. Our average meal price now is $2.48, so until we raise our prices to meet that $2.65, we're going to have to keep increasing."
The program pays for itself -- salaries, benefits, equipment, as well as some indirect costs for custodial services, heat and electricity -- and costs are increasing.
Next year, some school secretaries' salary costs will come from the food service budget because they collect lunch money, she said.
The district has excellent participation of students and adults in its meal programs, but it's a balance of quality versus cost, Younker said.
"If a kid eats lunch every day, it'll add up to $2 extra per month," she said of the price increase. "That's a lot less than you would spend buying something at the grocery store."