Fall preview: School meal changes affect fruit, grains, sodium

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com This school lunch tray prepared at Pierce Street Elementary School contains all the components of a healthy lunch: a chicken sandwich on a whole grain-rich bun, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, fresh orange slices, canned pears and a fat-free milk.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
This school lunch tray prepared at Pierce Street Elementary School contains all the components of a healthy lunch: a chicken sandwich on a whole grain-rich bun, sweet potato fries, fresh vegetables, fresh orange slices, canned pears and a fat-free milk.

By Ginna Parsons

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Students in Mississippi’s public school cafeterias will see a few changes on their plates this fall.

“These are being implemented as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” said Lynne Rogers, director of food service for the Tupelo Public School District. The district has slowly been implementing other changes of the act since the 2011-12 school year.

The first change for 2014-15 has to do with fruit at breakfast.

“We have to add an additional 12 cup serving of fruit, so now students will have the opportunity to pick up a whole cup of fruit at breakfast,” she said.

Offerings include items such as a banana, apple or orange, chilled canned fruit, such as pineapple, peaches, pears or mixed fruit, or a half-cup of fruit juice.

“It’s up to them to select two fruits,” Rogers said. “We have to offer two fruits, but they don’t have to pick up a second serving. But they do have to leave with at least one. That’s another part of what’s new this year. So the cashier will be looking to see if there’s at least one fruit on that tray, and two is even better.”

The second change involves both breakfast and lunch, and it falls in the grains department.

“Over the last two years, we’ve had to have only 50 percent of our grains be whole grains, but now everything has to be 100 percent whole-grain rich,” she said.

By the USDA’s definition, 100 percent whole-grain rich means at least 50 percent must be whole grain and the rest must be enriched refined flour.

That means the chicken in a chicken biscuit will have whole-grain breading on the outside of it, pancakes in the sausage on a stick will be made with whole grains, the breakfast burrito with turkey sausage will come on a whole grain tortilla and pizzas will be made with whole-grain crusts.

Sodium is tricky

Rogers said the new fruit and grain rules will be a piece of cake compared to the new sodium restrictions at breakfast.

“The sodium targets are new this year,” she said. “We’ve never had sodium restrictions before. This is the first year and I understand a second level is under consideration for the 2017-1018 school year.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Lynne Rogers said new sodium restrictions present a challenge for school cafeterias.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Lynne Rogers said new sodium restrictions present a challenge for school cafeterias.

The new targets for breakfast are 540mg or less for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; 600mg or less for students in grades six through eight; and 640mg or less for students in grades nine through 12.

The problem with sodium, Rogers said, is that it’s just about everywhere.

“Most milk has a good bit of sodium, around 130mg for an 8-ounce serving,” she said. “Fruit won’t have any, but it will be in your meats and breads.”

Rogers said the biscuit the school district has been using for years has more than 600mg of sodium in it.

“The one we had this year is down, maybe only 490, but that’s still not where we need to be,” she said. “We’re looking for one that’s about 330mg – half of what we’ve been serving.”

Rogers said the district has followed fat restrictions for a number of years (less than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat and no trans fat is allowed), and never had a problem implementing those guidelines.

“But sodium is going to be a problem,” she said. “We need to find some manufacturers to work toward that for us.”

Rogers said Mississippi is fortunate in that the State Department of Education has a statewide purchasing program that almost all the districts participate in.

“It would be very difficult to do it on your own,” she said. “It gives us new recipe books online and standardized recipes that are a good resource. They also test new products and allow us to test products for them.”

For instance, Rogers said, in May she tested a banana bread slice and a zucchini bread slice on Tupelo Middle School students.

“The kids were crazy about both of them,” she said. “I think they thought they were picking up dessert, but I feel much better when we have students’ input.”

Rogers said all the food guidelines the schools have to follow may sound tiresome and nitpicky, but ultimately the bottom line is education.

“What we’re trying to do is educate children for a lifetime,” she said. “The different variety of foods – meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk – they may never see at home.”

ginna.parsons@journalinc.com

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BY THE NUMBERS

Breakfast is $1 full price, 30 cents for reduced, or free. It must include four components: milk, two fruits, two grains/breads or a meat and a grain. Students must take at least three of the four components and at least one must be a fruit.

Lunch is $2.50 full price, 40 cents for reduced, or free. It must include five components: milk, breads/grains, meats, fruits and vegetables. Students have to take at least three of the five components and at least one must be a fruit or vegetable.