NEW ULM - To receive federal subsidies for school lunches, schools nationwide need to revamp their meals.
The changes, taking effect this year, will have a substantial impact on the food program in New Ulm Public Schools, according to Director of Dining Services Jackie LeMay.
Staff photo by Kremena Spengler
Jackie LeMay, director of Dining Services in District 88, is pictured in her office with posters highlighting changes in the lunch program intended to make lunches healthier. Also pictured (far left) is a sample of the water bottles that will be distributed among students at Jefferson School, seeking to promote healthier drinks with snacks.
The new federal rules, the most dramatic in 15 years, call for both more and more varied vegetables and fruit to be served with every meal. They also ban trans-fats, require milk to be low-fat or fat-free, and trim the intake of meats and breads while stressing whole grains.
For the first time, the government is setting not only minimum, but also maximum, calorie amounts per meal. These limits are tailored to specific age groups. The grade divisions are K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
The youngest students will get 550 to 650 calories per meal; the middle school group will get 600 to 700; and the high-school group 750 to 850.
Meals should include a variety of vegetables, with weekly minimums set for each vegetable sub-group: dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy, etc.
Elementary students should be offered at least 3/4 of a cup of vegetables as part of their lunch, according to the guidelines. High school students will need to take a cup.
Federal subsidies for meals will increase, to help offset a projected increase in costs.
The guidelines come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Students going through the food line will be asked to choose three out of five meal components, LeMay said. The five components are grain, protein, vegetables/fruit and dairy.
Students will be asked to choose the required vegetable and fruit allotment, she said. Because the meal would not qualify for federal subsidies if they decline, students at the high school who do will need to pay cash for their meal.
LeMay expects the vegetable requirement to be easier to enforce with younger, more impressionable students, and potentially more difficult to implement with a segment of students in the older grades.
Local tradition has made bread easily available in the high school in the past, LeMay also said. A culture change may be challenging to effect.
Bread and peanut butter would not be a choice as part of a regular meal. They will remain available in the a-la-carte section of the cafeteria.
The Food Service is also pioneering an effort to improve food offerings at Jefferson, by offering healthier snacks and drinks. To this end, parents are asked to buy $60 snack card, covering the yearly cost.
The local Food Service has been following many of the new guidelines for several years, said LeMay. Bread and pizza crust here are 90 percent whole-grain, and the Food Service is committed to buying Minnesota-grown produce.
LeMay stressed the changes are a positive, not a punitive, effort to foster a healthy diet.
"We'd like to send the message that this is a good thing. Obesity is an issue, and diet is important! We are not trying to be vicious about it; just trying to do what's best for the kids," said LeMay.
Parents can pay for lunches online at myschoolbucks.com. LeMay can be reached at 359-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.