Superintendent of Perry Township Schools
My childhood memories of eating in the school cafeteria are not that exciting. The food choices were usually yellow in color, ranging from macaroni and cheese to corn, rolls and mashed potatoes with a huge glob of butter melting in the middle of the pan. I don’t know why but almost everything was always yellow.
The topic of school cafeterias is timely because March was designated as National Nutrition Month. We want you to know that our meals are planned using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Standards for School Meals. That simply means there’s a lot of science behind what we’re required to serve. You may find some of the following facts surprising.
The standards require that we serve specific amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or meat alternatives and milk over a one- week menu. The quantities include minimums per day, and amounts vary by grade groups. Students in Grades K-5 and 6-9 must be offered a minimum of one-half cup of fruit for lunch daily. Grades 9-12 must be offered a minimum of one cup.
The quantity of vegetables is more, with Grades K-5 and 6-8 being offered at least three-quarters of a cup daily and Grades 9-12 at least a cup. Of that amount, the offerings must include dark green, red/orange and starchy vegetables and beans or peas. Additional vegetables from subgroups may be offered to reach the total. No more than half of the fruit and vegetable servings can be in the form of 100 percent juice.
All grains must be whole grain rich unless receiving a waiver from the state for specific items such as pasta.
In addition, the menus must also meet daily minimum and maximum amounts of calories, saturated fat and sodium based on an average for a five-day week. Manufacturer specifications for trans fat must indicate zero grams of trans fat per serving.
The daily calorie ranges for lunch are: Grades K-5, 550-650; Grades, 6-8, 600-700; and Grades 9-12, 750-830.
The increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables and changing to whole grain rich products has been an adjustment for the students. Everything from rice and bread to muffins, pop tarts and cookies must be whole grain rich. This is true with the menu items and any snacks that students may purchase.
We work hard to offer food that will meet the requirements while being enjoyed by our students. However, we do see some waste, and we’re taking action to help stop that. Often, we see unopened packages of muffins, Grahams, milk, juice and other items not being eaten. Once the items have been served, we cannot use them again.
We plan to pilot a program to have tables in the cafeterias where students can put their unopened items, which will be inventoried, labeled and properly stored along with any unused food. We will partner with a nonprofit organization in the coming school year that will come in and “rescue” food that might have otherwise been wasted. The agency will collect leftovers distribute them to agencies that feed needy families.
We accomplish all of this through the hard work of our food service staff. Our hope is that our efforts help a child adopt healthy eating habits for a healthy future.