Jul 09, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
School lunches in Skaneateles for the 2012-13 school year will include more and bigger portions of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while reducing and eliminating unhealthier foods from the menu. The problem, however, according to the school district lunch manager, is that New York is mandating that every student who buys lunch must take the foods offered on the menu — even if the student is not going to eat it.
This new mandate is a waste of food and money — by the district and by parents paying for their child’s uneaten lunch — and simultaneously does nothing to educate children as to why they should, and are being told to, eat healthy.
“As a nutritionist, I have a problem with a lot of things we do serve, [but] I don’t see [the new mandates] working,” Elaine Crysler, the district lunch program manager, told the school board at its July 2 meeting. “It’s kind of like an impossibility to achieve what they’re telling us to achieve.”
Crysler was at the BOE meeting to give the board an overview of the new state school lunch nutritional standards, which will begin implementation this fall.
New York state has long had a hand in school lunch nutritional requirements, with the most recent standards — the ones currently in use — coming out in 1998. Those standards said school lunches must offer foods from the four food groups, have certain amounts of whole grains, sodium, fruits and vegetables, but it offered lunch program managers leeway in what was offered in the cafeteria to achieve those results.
The difference now is “basically in the meal patterns,” Crysler told the Skaneateles Press. “Before we had some restrictions on things like sodium, calories, fat, and the state gave you the basic meal pattern. Now there are restrictions with specifics on servings.”
The new nutrition regulations, which Crysler shared with the Skaneateles Press, show numerous specific changes in the nutrition requirements. For example, last year students had to receive one-half to three-quarters of a cup if fruit and combined per day; this year students must take three-quarters to one cup of vegetables and one-half to one cup of fruit per day.
Last year, the nutrition requirements were to serve “vegetables,” with no specifics as to type. This year, the cafeteria must serve specific weekly requirements for dark green vegetables, red/orange vegetables, beans/peas and starchy vegetables.
Other changes include the mandate that at least half of the grains served must be whole grains, which ultimately means that school lunch will soon eliminate all white bread from its offerings, and that milk must be fat-free (plain or chocolate milk) or 1 percent (plain only).
“This is going to be a challenge to try to help students consume the new amounts recommended in the standards,” said Kathy Dischner, a nutrition educator and team leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Onondaga County. “I believe districts are looking at the standards to see how to make this a win-win on both sides.”
Understanding the new standards is “all very preliminary right now,” and CCE has not completely reviewed them yet since they were just released by the state, Dischner said. They have, however, recently finished a pilot study on how to improve the way food is featured in the lunch line to “help nudge healthier choices among students,” and the results were “agreeable,” she said.
Skaneateles has been offering healthy food choices at or above the state requirements for years, so the new standards will not affect the district as much as it will some others, Crysler said. “We’re more in the 80-to-90 percent whole grain range right now. We’ve been doing that gradually,” she said as an example.
But the mandate that students must take certain foods on their tray whether they plan to eat it or throw it away, and the elimination of the less healthy but more popular foods from the menu will have ramifications on the school lunch program in terms of cost issues and food waste — and that will be the most difficult aspect to the changes for Skaneateles.
For example, because of the new mandates, the high school cafeteria will no longer offer pizza, burgers and french fries every day for lunch, nor will the elementary school offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day, Crysler said. These are the biggest sellers in the lunch program, and without them the program will lose a lot of customers and money, she said.
She said a major flaw in the program is the lack of nutrition education — the state is telling the kids what to eat, but not educating them on how to eat and why it is important to eat healthy foods.
“It’s in the curriculum to teach nutrition … but it needs to somehow be connected to the cafeteria and what children get to choose,” Crysler said.
Board of education members were particularly concerned about the anticipated waste of food the new mandates will create. BOE member Thomas Lambdin said he “hate[d] to see such waste,” and asked the Crysler if there would be a way to consult with local farmers and gardeners and create a composting program. She said it is “a possibility,” as is the idea of creating a school garden to help cut down food costs.
Board president Evan Dreyfuss asked how this would affect the school lunch program budget, which is separate from the district budget. “I think [in the end] it will cost us a little more per meal per child,” Crysler responded.
“Maybe we’ll be mildly surprised. We’ve made other changes I was surprised by. After it becomes the norm, maybe it will be all right,” she said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.