New school menu gets mixed reviews

A peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, along with French fries, crackers and peas in their pods are on this PHS student’s tray at the PHS cafeteria last Friday.

The new menu plan being mandated at schools across America is designed to be more nutritious, and have less fat, but the food isn’t being embraced totally at Princeton High School.

The government has gone from having a food pyramid with a lot of grain products at the bottom to something called MyPlate. It has what the USDA calls the five building blocks for a healthy diet – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy.

Students in grades 9-12, for example, need only choose three of the five food blocks, but of those they must have a minimum of either 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetables, or a combination of the two that totals the half cup.

One of the changes that some Princeton High School (PHS) students liked the least was a dramatic cut back in chocolate milk days. Chocolate milk had been offered alongside white milk every day, and now chocolate milk is only available on Fridays.

“I’m really not too happy,” said PHS senior Cody Black. Black says he feels the milk in general “tastes different”, doesn’t like only being served chocolate milk one day per week, and doesn’t feel he is getting as much food as he should for the money. (The meal price at the PHS is $1.90.)

Black also didn’t like the salt reduction, or the absence of ranch salad dressing on the main serving line.

“The cheeseburger tastes like a veggie burger,” complained sophomore Ben Katzke, and added his dislike for the chocolate milk reduction, and said the other milk tastes like skim. (The PHS kitchen offers white milk as either skim or 1 percent.)

One more thing, the serving of French fries is not as big as before and the salt shouldn’t have been reduced, Katzke said.

“I think that everything doesn’t have to be whole grain, and we should have chocolate milk every day,” said sophomore Kourtney Sainio. “I will bring chocolate milk powder (to school) if I want to. They’re not making us fat. It’s the parents who make us fat. Parents should say no if their child is bigger.”

“We need chocolate milk every day,” said sophomore Riley Hennen.

Whole grain cheese sticks with whole grain pasta and sauce was offered, or pizza with fries on the main line, while hamburger or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were on the combo line at PHS last Friday. They could also get soup or fries on the combo line.

The hamburger meat under the new menu is two ounces, half what was given before.

“It’s decent,” is how sophomore Lexi Jones characterized the new menu rules, but added that she thought this year’s milk is of a “cheaper quality.”

“Me and (sophomore) Gabby (Henke), we’re bringing cold lunches because we don’t like the whole grain,” said sophomore Bridget Walter. “It (the new lunch) doesn’t taste good anymore.”

“The taco shells look bad,” added Henke.

“It’s pretty good,” said freshman Brent Chambers of the new menu.

“I don’t like it at all said junior Jonny Sandberg. “The milk tastes like water, and the food is in really small amounts and you have to get stuff you don’t like to eat. The fruit is not that good.”

PHS instructor and coach Derek Hasselberg commented that he likes how the new menu allows a person to take unlimited amounts of fruits and vegetables as long as the minimum required amount is taken.

Hasselberg echoed many of the PHS students, saying, “I don’t like not having chocolate milk (every day). “I never drank white milk.”

Hasselberg questioned whether “one size fits all” in regulating the same food requirements for all students in a school, noting that some burn off more energy through athletics.

Princeton Director of Business Services and interim district food service director Michelle Czech laid out the requirements for the new meal pattern last week. It must consist of 600-700 calories, allow 9-10 oz. of meat maximum per week, 8-10 oz of grains/ breads, and students must take a half cup of either a fruit or vegetable. Chocolate milk will only be served on Fridays, as opposed to the previous every day.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which laid out the rules, is using the motto – Preventing hunger-Improving nutrition. Czech talked about the Minnesota Department of Education’s concern about a problem of obesity being on the rise in America since 1980. That department states that according to “some statistics,” more than 25 percent of children and adolescents are at risk or already are overweight, and points to poor nutrition and eating habits as a major factor.

Czech, who is doing double duty as the interim district food service director until a new person is hired for the job, noted that the government had been “refining” the new menu requirements for more than a year and that she believes the refining will continue.

“The (reduced) sodium is going to be the hardest thing for us to meet,” Czech added. She explained that sodium comes with the product sent to the school district. The sodium requirement doesn’t have to be done right away, but instead phased in, said Czech. Total whole grain will be phased in by next school year, with only 50 percent whole grain required this year, she noted.

“Princeton Public Schools will do the best to comply,” Czech continued. “We’ve met the rules of the national school lunch program and it will continue to make guidelines. As the program refines the guidelines, we will work with them and produce a nutritious meal for students.”

USDA officials call the new menu a “colorful plate,” which instead of focusing on meats and grains, has 50 percent in fruits and vegetables, said Czech. “We serve a lot of broccoli,” she noted. “I was at the middle school and North (Elementary) today and broccoli was on the menu and it was very well received.”

Czech also noted that in the past, the fruit was more of the canned type at Princeton Public Schools, versus more fresh fruit now. She also explained how the salad bar has guidelines so things like cheese, ham, turkey and chopped eggs are set out in measured containers.

There is a bottom line besides the nutrition angle. Note that unless the diner takes the minimum requirements on their plate, it is not a meal where the district can get reimbursement beyond what the diner pays.

And yes, the federal government will be poking around the district lunchrooms to make sure there is compliance. Czech noted that federal officials used to review a school district’s food program every five years, and now the cycle will be every three years.

Czech, for her part, said that when she was at North Elementary last week, she found that there wasn’t much food dumped.

Principal Greg Finck at South Elementary said that the menu is going over well at South, but that the biggest noticed change was going to chocolate milk one day a week. There isn’t much change beyond that this school year because South Elementary began phasing in the new food rules last school year, Finck said.

Actually more things are made from scratch in the district’s school kitchens than some realize, Czech said, citing the made-from-scratch lasagna at the middle school as an example.

Czech added that lunch menus have improved if she compares today’s school menus to when she attended school in Foley in the 1970s and ‘80s. She says she remembers the “grease dripping from the tacos,” and that there was no salad bar.

The government is “trying to figure out the obesity problem,” Czech said. “The school lunches are not going to fix the overall problem. We can help educate people.”