When Watertown-Mayer students return to school in September, there will be new USDA requirements for their school lunches. The new requirements will help the school district build on the work it is already doing to provide more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthier entrees in the school cafeterias.
Some of the new USDA requirements include:
• Larger servings of fruits and vegetables. Students must take one serving daily, and over the course of the week, the meals must include 3/4 cup orange or red vegetables and at least 1/2 cup of each: dark green vegetable, starch vegetable (green peas, corn, white potatoes), dried beans/legumes.
• More whole grains (at least half of grains)
• A limit on the total amounts of meat/meat alternatives and grain portions
• Limiting milk offerings to 1 percent or fat free
• Implementing minimum and maximum calorie levels based on age
• More foods that are trans fat free and low in saturated fat, and less sodium over the next 10 years
The new requirement regarding fruits and vegetables is among the most significant changes. Students will now be required to have 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetables on their tray for it to count as a full meal. Anything less than a full meal will be charged as individual items. Watertown-Mayer schools plan to offer a variety of fruits and vegetables daily to give students more options in the hope that choosing fruits and vegetables will be easy for students.
Schools will also be limited on how much meat and grains can be offered. This means that some of the main dishes may not be as large as they have been in the past. However, there will be more fruits and vegetables available to fill out the meal and ensure students have plenty to eat.
Watertown-Mayer schools have already made progress toward meeting the new requirements. Menu offerings from Taher, Inc., the district’s food service management company, include:
• Chef-developed, made-from-scratch items, including trans fat free and whole grains.
• A fruit and vegetable bar as part of the daily menu offerings, with a selection of fresh vegetables and fresh or canned fruit.
• A harvest of the month program that features a specific fruit, vegetable and grain or legume each month, along with educational flyers.
• Taste-testing of new food items, allowing students to become familiar with them before they are on the menu.
The school nutrition program needs the support of parents to succeed. Parents can support the effort by encouraging their children to give the healthier meals a try, joining their child for lunch to talk about the healthy options, or simply introducing their children to these healthy changes at home. Parents are the primary role models for their children. When children see their parents choose healthy foods, they are more likely to choose them as well.
For menus, nutrition analysis, lunch account balance, meal charge policy, free- and reduced-lunch meal applications, and much more regarding food service, go to www.wm.k12.mn.us and click on “lunch menu.”