Midday makeover for school lunches
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Tina Dilks, left, and Deb Voss prepare cheeseburgers as one of the lunch items at Delavan-Darien High School recently. Although cheeseburgers might still be on the menu sometimes, schools have had to adjust their menus to follow new nutritional guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Terry Mayer photo.
DELAVAN -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced the American palate to its food guide pyramid in 1992 and gave it a visual and nutritional makeover in 2005. Both versions, as well as their messages, received equal helpings of criticisms.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
In 2011, the pyramid turned into a plate, something simple, more recognizable and easier for people of all ages to understand. It also is an extension of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a strategy that first lady Michelle Obama and others are using to raise standards while improving the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million children who participate in daily school meal programs.
While the recommendations are a major step forward in theory, making children follow the new guidelines and getting food service personnel up to speed have created numerous challenges.
The standards, announced early in 2012, focus on five principles:
-- Ensuring students are offered fruits and vegetables every day
-- Substantially increasing offerings of whole-grain foods
-- Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk options
-- Limiting calories based on children’s ages to ensure proper portion sizes
-- Reducing saturated and trans fats and sodium
The new standards have been keeping people like Tina Hudy quite busy. Hudy is the nutrition director with the Delavan-Darien School District, where she has worked for 27 years.
“First of all, I don’t think the new standards are a bad thing, I just believe it was a lot of material to bite off all at once,” Hudy said. “It was a lot to take into account, especially when it comes to menu planning. You have to orient the staff, and then the kids. You have to see that they’re not only taking the food, but that they’re eating it. We don’t want to have healthy garbage cans, we want to have healthy kids.”
Donna Ecklund directs the food services department for Lake Geneva Joint 1 School District and Badger Union High School.
“It definitely has been challenging in meeting the new requirements as far as menu planning,” Ecklund said. “We have not gotten too much feedback from students, parents or staff. But there was a learning curve in the beginning, making kids understand the new offerings versus serving requirement, which says that one of the items taken must be a fruit or vegetable.”
However, arguably the most controversial aspect of the new guidelines revolves around the actual numbers, as in portion sizes that limit calorie counts: 850 calories for high schoolers, 700 for middle schoolers and 650 for elementary students.
Mukwonago Area School District grabbed the national spotlight when students, especially athletes, staged a boycott in mid-September: 70 percent of the high school’s 830 students who normally buy lunch in the cafeteria protested what they said was a “one size fits all” strategy. About half of the district’s middle schoolers did the same thing.