Austin Schools enacting healthier lunchesPublished 10:40am Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Austin Public Schools is getting healthier by the day. Healthier food, that is.
With the new year about to start, the district’s food and nutrition service is working to meet impending federal regulations from the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
“We’ve gone through the menus and taken a really close look at portion sizes,” said Mary Weikum, food and nutrition services director.
Weikum said district staff are making a number of changes to comply with federal regulations, including offering fresh fruit and canned fruit daily. In fact, students won’t be able to buy lunch unless they have at least 1/2 serving of fruits or vegetables on their tray, another federal recommendation.
“Any student must have a minimum of a half cup of either a fruit or a vegetable,” Weikum said.
The district will be reimbursed 6 cents for every lunch as a result of the measure. That won’t save any money, however, as the district pays about 28 cents per fresh fruit serving in order to meet federal mandates, according to Weikum.
There are some immediate changes to the lunch menu that students may find appealing. District staff will offer more fruit and vegetable varieties after a partnership with the University of Minnesota extension office’s nutrition program at Neveln and Sumner Elementary Schools had students trying different produce. In addition, schools will have chicken teriyaki with brown rice and a vegetable roll on the menu.
“We did samples at the high school last year and had a really good outcome,” Weikum said.
School lunches aren’t the only food area getting healthier, however. Once Minnesota Department of Education officials certify that the district’s menu plans comply with federal mandates, District officials will look at getting the a la carte menu healthier. Food and nutrition specialists say state and federal legislators are looking at junk food laws prohibiting unhealthy foods from being sold to children in schools in order to curb childhood obesity trends.With mounting support, including a study released last week showing such measures are slightly effective, some school districts like Austin are looking to preemptively improve a la carte nutrition.
“I think that’s clearly the obvious next step once the menus are where they need to be,” Weikum said. “Why not get ahead of the game? We know the [regulations] are coming, so why not take that extra step.”
Weikum noted that Austin’s food and nutrition programs don’t extend to vending machines, which are operated by outside contractors, but district officials would most likely mirror Iowa’s school junk food regulations when examining a la carte programs.
State and federal school food regulations are increasingly debated as national child obesity rates continue to rise. While supporters tout healthier food in schools as a boon, critics say the government shouldn’t require healthy food choices.