School lunches to be costlier, more nutritious

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Lunch will cost a quarter more for Tupelo and Lee County students this year.
It also will be more nutritious.
Both districts have raised their lunch prices from $2.25 to $2.50 to comply with a federal law passed in late 2010. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act also requires districts to serve more fruits and vegetables this year and to limit the amount of calories and breads on their lunch trays.
“There are major changes in the school lunch program,” said Lynne Rogers, director of food service for the Tupelo Public School District.
Among the law’s requirements, districts must eventually charge as much for meals as the amount the federal government reimburses them for low-income students. This year, that amount is $2.88 per student, Rogers said.
Schools were allowed to gradually work toward that amount, according to a formula. Both Rogers and Lee County Schools Child Nutrition Director Susan Killens said they don’t anticipate having to raise prices again next year.
Both districts will also charge adults $3.25 for lunch, up from $3 last year. Breakfast will remain $1 for students. Lee County charges $1.80 for adult breakfasts, and Tupelo $1.85.
The law also divides vegetables into five subgroups and requires a certain amount from each group every week. For example, students will get a half cup of dark-green vegetables weekly and 3⁄4 cups of red-orange ones, like carrots and sweet potatoes.
They must also place at least one serving of fruits or vegetables on their tray every day. They are allowed as many as four daily servings.
The law says that meals for high school students can’t contain more than 850 calories. The limit for kindergarten to fifth-grade students is 650 and for sixth- to eighth-graders is 700. It has stricter requirements about how much bread students can eat each week.
“It will be very challenging to meet the regulations, but I feel they’re for the best by ensuring that our students are healthy,” Killens said. “It is a step in the right direction.”
Added Rogers: “All of these changes are making for better meals for children and hopefully making a better impact on them for lifelong good habits.
“For parents that are planning to send a lunch with their child, I don’t think they can meet all guidelines we are proposing by packing a lunch and trying to make it as healthy as we are making it.”
Both districts will also allow parents to use the website www.MyLunchMoney.com, to pay for their children’s meals and track how much money is left in their accounts. The districts also allow parents to apply online for free and reduced meals.
Lee County parents can do so at www.heartlandapps.com, and Tupelo parents can log on to SchoolLunchApp.com.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com