Starting this fall, kids and teachers will see some changes to the school lunch program because of the new federal mandate. These tough new mandatory regulations are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and every public school in the nation is required to follow the standards beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. These standards bring an emphasis to fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free and low-fat milk.
School meals offer students milk, fruits and vegetables, proteins and grains, and they must meet strict limits on saturated fat. Starting this school year, all school lunches will meet additional standards requiring the following. Below I have described the specifics related to Valley City Public Schools:
*Students choose at least ½ cup of either a vegetable or fruit each day. The lunch price doesn’t change if both are chosen, so encourage your child to select a vegetable AND a fruit for the healthiest lunch tray.
*Of all breads and grains served, ½ must be whole-grain-rich this year and all must be whole grain-rich by next school year. We have been working toward this for several years, so your child may not see much of a change.
*A limitation on how much meat and grains we can offer in a week. This will be the biggest change. Your child may notice that we are no longer able to offer croutons on the salad bar or bread as an extra. At the Jr. /Sr. High they may notice the grain changes, but also the meat portions must be limited. Because we understand the importance of a PB & J sandwich to the youngest of our students, we have added this sandwich as a third option on our menu.
*The calories be held to a stricter range and we are not allowed to go over the amount specified for K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 grades.
*Sodium standards be phased in over the next few years, so at VCPS we will be taste-testing a variety of new products that are lower in sodium to reach the level of 740 mg per meal.
*That saturated fat continue to be a focus, and, in addition, the new regulations now mandate that our food items are free of trans fats.
We have been working toward some of the new standards including offering beans as part of our regular menu items or salad bar, offering many whole grain rich items, offering vegetables from a variety of sub-groups including dark green, red/orange, “other”, and starchy, and offering only low-fat or non-fat milk options.
We are always working to offer our students healthier and tastier choices. Our kitchens partner with various local producers to bring the freshest produce to the salad bar; we offer a free fresh fruit and vegetable snack along with nutrition education; we have a FuelUpToPlay60 student led wellness team at the Jr./Sr. high, and we have been awarded the prestigious silver, bronze and gold level of the USDA’s HealthierUS school Challenge.
School meals are a great value and a huge convenience for busy families. The new legislation attempts to bring equity to meal pricing around the nation. That said we were required by the government to raise the lunch prices ten cents to $2.25 for the elementary level and to $2.35 for the Jr./Sr. High. This movement toward the newly required amount will continue for the next few years. Breakfast prices continue to hold at $1.70 for the elementary student and $1.80 for the Jr./Sr. High student.
These changes will require more work and careful planning on our part, especially as we get used to the new requirements. And the new menus will no doubt take some getting used to for our customers, too. So as we continue to serve the healthiest meals possible to your children while complying with this legislation, many changes will be taking place. You can help by encouraging your child to try new things at home and at school, joining your child for breakfast or lunch, and contacting me with questions or concerns.
To find out more about school meals, visit www.TrayTalk.org 
Sue Milender is a licensed registered dietitian and the Nutrition Services Director at Valley City Public Schools.
YOUR HEALTH is coordinated by Mercy Hospital.