More changes to go into effect for foods in schools

More changes from 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act will go into effect this school year.

Changes reducing sodium intake will take place in school lunches and breakfasts. It will start a multi-year reduction in sodium in school food.

Also an increase in the amount of fruit given to each student for breakfast will be enacted. Each student will be given a full cup of fruit with breakfast.

There are several changes in nutrition for schools in 2014-15 including certain foods and beverages that are allowed in vending machines in school. Times photo by Tyler Ohmann
There are several changes in nutrition for schools in 2014-15 including certain foods and beverages that are allowed in vending machines in school.
Times photo by Tyler Ohmann

Perhaps the biggest change, though, will be what is called the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative. This group of rules will basically eliminate the sale of unhealthy foods and treats to students.

“The key phrase is, ‘what is sold to students during the school day,’” said Mandy Zens, the Milaca Schools food service director.

Essentially anything that is sold to students, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, fundraising items or items from vending machines, needs to fall under certain specific calorie, fat, trans fat, sodium and grams of sugar ratios. Each item has specific guidelines based on its size to the ratio of its contents.

This will eliminate fundraising efforts with things like candy bar sales or candy grams during Valentine’s time. Other alternatives will have to be used.

It will not affect concessions at school-sponsored events unless they take place during the school day or within one half hour before or after it.

“All these changes have strictly impacted food service thus far, but now the smart snacks is effecting the vending and fundraising,” Zens said. “These programs count on that, and suddenly these they are forced to give it up, and that’s tough.”

Zens said that she believes that the best way to find out what the school should start selling is for the kids to talk about what they want.

“We’re trying to get students to tell us what things that are healthy they are willing to eat, that they will like and buy,” Zens said. “Then we have to try and get them to promote that to their peers, so it’s not just adults saying, you need to eat this or that.”

School lunches and breakfasts will also continue the trend of becoming more healthy. Last year it was implemented that every student needed to receive a vegetable and fruit, and certain types of vegetables and fruits were to be served each week.

“We’ve always had to meet specific protein, breads and grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, but last year they went as far as, it’s not just fruits and vegetables you have to offer, but the kids actually have to take them,” Zens said. “Obviously this meant we went through more, and it wasn’t just vegetables, but specific vegetables and quantities.”

This did not sit well with a small amount of students.

“We haven’t had many complaints,” Zens said. “I had one student in my office who said, ‘Why do we have to take this fruit or this vegetable? I don’t eat these fruits, but I’m forced to take it every single day, and I throw it away, and I can’t understand why.’”

“We explained that we understand where you’re coming from, but that we have to follow these guidelines in order to have a federal program,” Zens added.

The first changes in the first couple of years drastically reduced the amount of food given to students and eliminated many grains from the options. This was taken in stride, although some students were still looking for more after they were done with their meal.

“You have, say, a little ninth-grade girl and your big senior football player, and they are saying they need to have the same amount of calories, well, no, that’s not true,” Zens said. “He’s hungry and she’s full, and that’s the challenge when we went away from all the grains and made the changes.”

Zens added: “You’re not going to be able to meet everybody’s needs, because we’re all so different.”

This year, sodium restrictions are one of the biggest changes.

Over the next four years, Milaca and all other schools in the nation will have to continue to reduce sodium to get to federal limits.

“It’s a minor shift down in sodium, and part of it is we already don’t add salt when we cook, and so we really rely on our manufacturer to create products that fall within those guidelines,” Zens said.

She said students will likely not even notice the changes, because they are subtle.

“The menu may look like there isn’t significant changes; however, the food that is being used is meeting those guidelines,” Zens said. “We will still serve mash potatoes, but they’ll be sodium-free mash potatoes.”

As for how the changes have been received, Zens said that she hasn’t heard too many other complaints.

“I haven’t really heard a lot, so it seems to be going pretty well,” Zens said. “We have multiple choices for these kids, so that helps a lot.”

She mentioned it was a lot tougher for some of the metro schools, who had to remove dedicated lines and franchises.

“Overall we’ve always met the guidelines, but I know some of the other schools in the metro, where they have Pizza Hut, Subway or a burger line, things like that, really struggled,” Zens said. “For us the students didn’t see super significant changes, because we were already doing a lot of things.”