New requirements for school food start in fall

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Amber Ganoung, left, cook, stirs a pot of chili that she is preparing to serve 600 students at lunch. Vera Mahurin, middle, head cook, and Rita Beebe, food service director, take a sample to make sure the students will like the flavor. The chili recipe is from a state recipe book to ensure that it meets all of the nutrition regulations. Kayla Monahan/reporter@cassville-democrat.com

Cassville food director works to find healthy foods students will eat

New school food requirements are going into effect next year, attempting to make school meals healthier.

The changes will affect four major areas. First, The Smart Snacks program requires that all sides must be served with something healthy. For example, if the school sells a cookie, it must be the appropriate proportioned size and include a 1/4 component of fruit. This affects side dishes served at meals, a la carte and even in vending machines.

Second, the school will be required to meet the first target of reducing sodium in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA). The legislation, signed by President Barack Obama, provides funding and policy for the United States Department of Agriculture to make reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving nutrition.

Third, all whole foods served must be whole-grain. This year, the requirements are half-and-half. Finally, breakfast must include fruit.

This year, students are allowed to choose to refuse two items at lunch if they do not want it, and one at breakfast. New requirements say that they have to take at least one fruit at breakfast and one fruit or vegetable at lunch.

Each meal must include five components: grains, proteins, veggies, fruit and dairy.

"The reason for this is help kids make better choices," Said Rita Beebe, Cassville food service director. "We are here to educate them, and maybe it is something they will take with them through their lives."

Schools that comply with all of the new HHFKA meal requirements get a 6-cent reimbursement from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Failure to follow the new meal component guidelines will result in the loss of the additional 6-cent reimbursement, and other federal and state reimbursements.

By forcing students to take things they do not like, Beebe believes that the school will be feeding the trashcans, and she is doing everything she can to prevent it.

"When we make them take food, we start to waste because children don't want to be told to take what they don't like," Beebe said. "So, we have to be creative."

Beebe said she notices what students like, and do not like, and she tries to please them. Students seem to like fresh fruit over canned she said. However, Beebe noticed apples going in the trash and began cutting them up, which seemed to work better to get students to eat them.

Beebe said the cooks are always trying to be innovative when preparing healthy food. New requirements say all food must be whole-grain, so she tries to find pasta that is whole-grain but still white since the students do not want to eat brown noodles. However, items like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese go over well because the different-colored noodles are covered up.

Vera Mahurin, head cook at Cassville Primary School, said all the head cooks attend classes every year to learn the new food regulations, and bring back the new information to teach the rest of the staff.

"It's hard to learn all the new stuff, but Rita is good at finding foods that taste good, and look good too," Mahurin said. "If it looks good, the kids will try it."

The school also offers a salad bar and a baked potato bar on Friday for middle school students, and two options of a main dish to provide students with a variety of nutritious choices.

The district is also dealing with a change to its commodities budget, which was $34,000 last year and is $22,000 this year. Commodities are the amount of free products that are donated to the school by the government.

The overall budget for food, depending on the school year and prices, is about $450,000, according to superintendent Richard Asbill.

"We appreciate the commodities, but it's not a significant impact in the big scheme of things, as that is only about 4.5 percent of the budget," he said.

Asbill said the figures for commodities will vary every year, and that part of the budget does not impact what is served, just what has to purchased at the market.

"Rita does a good job facilitating the budget," Asbill said. "The commodities help just like coupons at the grocery store. Prices go up and down throughout the year, and she is buying for a family of 2,000 people every day."

Beebe said that she has not heard anything about prices of lunch going up, but she said the healthier food items, which are costlier, could lead to a price hike in the future as schools work to meet all of the requirements. However, she said she will continue to be creative in finding foods students will eat that comply with the regulations in order to avoid it.

Cassville is serving an average of 1,500 lunches per day and an average of 433 breakfasts per day. The Cassville food service department employees 16 full-time cooks and one part-time employee.

For more information on the new school food regulations visit http://dese.mo.gov/divadm/food/.

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