By Supt. Dr. Nancy Rajanen
Many news outlets have been reporting about the dramatic changes in school lunch programs across the country.
The changes are the result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), which authorizes funding and sets policy for the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
HHFKA upgrades the nutritional standards for school meals, increases the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by 6 cents, increases access to school meals, provides more meals for at-risk children, and works toward improving the quality of foods supplied to schools, making the most significant changes to school lunch and breakfast programs in over 30 years.
The new standards, built upon recommendations from the Institute of Medicine include:
• Ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
• Increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
• Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk;
• Limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size;
• Increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.
The new standards went into effect on July 1, but Waconia Schools were already well on the way to meeting the standards.
Because we began to work with our vendors last year, many of the changes are invisible to our students. Of course, the biggest challenge is to strike a balance between the nutrition kids need and what they are like or are willing to eat.
We will continue to have some of the items that kids love – but there will be subtle differences.
Our pasta and pizza crust will be whole grain.
Our corn dogs will have all-beef meat inside, whole wheat, and dramatically lower sodium and fat, and are baked. Chicken nuggets now contain whole grain coating, low fat, white meat, and are baked, not fried.
It would be easy to say that we are doing this “because we have to.” But, teachers will tell you that well-nourished kids are ready to learn and do better in class. When we give kids plenty of healthy food choices and regular physical activity at school, they learn healthier habits for life. We also know that nutritious meals and snacks will help kids stay healthy, reducing their risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other serious chronic diseases.
As parents, grandparents and neighbors, you have the power to encourage your children to build a healthy plate at school and home. I’d ask you to review the school menu with your kids and encourage them to try new foods, especially the healthy foods offered.
When your child gets home from school, ask what was served and what (s)he ate for lunch. As parents, we know that our children pick up all of our attitudes and behaviors – including our eating habits.
Since kids love to copy what their parents do, they are likely to mimic our willingness to try new foods. Parents and grandparents are always welcome to join the child(ren) for lunch in the school cafeteria.
The new law also strengthened local school wellness policies. We know that these can be a powerful force for change in many communities, and the HHFKA now requires more engagement from the local level so that these do not just become a paper that gets filed away in a drawer somewhere.
I hope that this is the first of many steps in the Waconia community to focus on healthy kids.