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School lunch menu to be healthier, yet its offerings mandatory

School board, district, concerned about waste of food and money in new state directives

— 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.

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