School Lunch Will Be Different This Year as Complex New Rules Begin

As students head back to school this week, they’ll find changes in the cafeteria.

A federal law called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 takes full effect this school year.  It imposes a complex set of rules on the food that schools serve in an attempt to fight obesity in children.

Among the requirements:

  • There must be a vegetable available every day
  • There must be a fruit available every day
  • There must be a serving of meat or meat alternate available every day — one ounce for students in grades K-8 and two ounces for high school students
  • For schools to be reimbursed by the federal government for serving the lunch, the student must take a vegetable and a fruit
  • Trans-fats are out
  • Whole milk is out — no-fat chocolate milk is still okay, as is low-fat and no-fat white milk
  • More whole grains in bread products
  • Less salt
  • Calories count — no more than 650 calories in a meal for a K-5 student, and no more than 850 for a high school student

The law also forces schools to charge a minimum price of $2.00 for students in K-8 and $2.25 for students in grades 9-12.  That represents an increase for some districts, which raised their prices over the summer to meet the new minimum.  Students will pay full price for the meal even if they take less than a full meal.

Fulton school district food service director Terry Warwick explained that the new rules are more complex than they seem.  For example, a serving of spaghetti and meatballs is no longer considered an entree.  Instead, the meatballs have to measure up to a serving of meat, while the pasta is a grain.

They can’t serve mixed vegetables anymore because the rules force them to count certain types of vegetables differently from other types.

She notes that the serving size for meat will also be a change for students.  A typical hamburger weighs three to four ounces.  An elementary student’s meat limit is one ounce.

“Our biggest issue is getting the calories up while cutting (portion sizes of) proteins and grains,” she said.

There might be more open-faced sandwiches to cope with the rule on grains, she said.

Schools have to submit their menus to the state in order to be eligible for a little extra aid for each meal.  The extra aid will provide about $20,000 a year to Fulton’s food service budget, Warwick said.

Next school year, there’ll be changes for the school breakfast program.