CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- There will be changes at the cafeteria line for New York schools in the upcoming school year. Prompted by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school children will see more fruits and vegetables, limits to starches, sometimes smaller portions -- and a steadily rising lunch price.
The federal government began providing assistance for meal programs for public and nonprofit private schools with the 1946 National School Lunch Act signed by President Harry Truman. School districts today rely on reimbursements to offset the costs of providing breakfasts and lunches, particularly for reduced-cost and free meals for eligible students.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free act signed by President Barack Obama in December 2010 requires local school districts to use whole food-based menu planning, as opposed to "nutrient analysis."
Implemented over the next decade, the act allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish new portion sizes for different age groups, weekly "maximums" for starchy grains and meats, and limits for sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats. It also expands eligibility for free and reduced price meals.
Amy Braun, lunch room manager at Cambridge Central School, said the changes would present some challenges. "We’re going to have to make a few adjustments and keep them positive," she said during a presentation to the school board earlier this month.
Braun said the school would need to balance the new requirements with options that students will choose -- and eat. "We’re not looking for our garbage cans to get heavier, that’s not the goal here."
The 2010 school lunch reauthorization merited praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, educators, and health officials. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius called the act a "significant step forward" in the effort to provide children access to healthy, balanced, nutritious meals.
"By increasing the number of students eligible to enroll in school meal programs and improving the quality of food served, this legislation simultaneously tackles both hunger and the obesity levels currently affecting too many communities across this nation," said Sebelius.
In 2011, 31.8 million school children participated in the national school lunch program.
Braun said the new requirements would have some effect at CCS, particularly concerning maximum levels for weekly servings of grain -- which will have to be "whole grain-rich" half the time. "Portion sizes for our entrees are going to decrease next year because of the maximums in our grains department," said Braun.
"I think we will have some adjustment for our students, ‘Wow, we’re not getting as much food this year,’" she said, partly because of portion stipulations based on three grade "ranges."
"Ideally if we got them to eat all their fruits (and) vegetables ... they’d feel fuller."
Students with special dietary restrictions (doctor prescribed) are not impacted.
The price of lunch is also required to rise; next year, by a nickel in each grade at CCS. Braun said the mandate was for each school district’s full cost of lunch to eventually equal the reimbursement rate the district receives from the state and federal government.
Braun said satisfying the new requirements was important for maintaining reimbursement, which pays a small portion for full-priced meals, most of the cost for reduced-price meals, and the whole cost for free meals.
At Cambridge, more than a third of the student population -- 36 percent -- was eligible for free or reduced-cost meals at the end of 2011-12.
Braun said the new requirements would compound matters this fall while the school’s cafeteria and kitchen undergo renovation.
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