School lunch put on a diet

September 01, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

You no longer can find cakes, whole milk and some chips on sale at cafeterias in Washington County Public Schools: Those and other food items have been replaced with more nutritional, less fatty products, school system officials say.

When students returned to school Aug. 25, the menu of items on sale in the cafeteria had changed, said Gary Dodds, supervisor of food and nutrition services.

The changes were made in response to state government mandates that ordered all school systems to develop, by January, a master plan for how they are going to ensure that all food items on sale in cafeterias meet certain health requirements, Dodds said


Rather than changing the menu during the school year, he decided to make the changes before school started, he said. Some changes may be made during the year in response to sales and demand for food items, he said.

Students have reacted positively to the changes, he said.

The changes were focused not on the school meals, which cost $1.60 in the elementary schools and $1.85 in the middle and high schools, but on a la carte items that range in price from about 50 cents to $1.20, Dodds said.

According to the state mandate, food should be sold as single-serving portions and should contain a maximum of 9 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 15 grams of sugar.

Some ice cream, drink and snack products were changed because they exceeded those requirements, he said. For example, a fruit juice that contains 10 percent fruit was replaced by ones that contain 50 percent and 100 percent fruit, he said.

There also are more healthful alternatives to snacks on sale, including chef salads, homemade soups and fruit salads, he said.

Dodds said he believes there is no such thing as "bad food," but there is such a thing as bad portion sizes.

"We are teaching kids lessons about nutrition," he said. "You can eat a cheesecake, but watch the portion size."

Washington County is ahead of other school systems in the state in making changes to its menu, Dodds said.

"I applaud them for taking a substantial step toward improving the nutritional value of the foods served in the schools," Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said Tuesday. "Obesity is a problem for all ages and it is critical that we instill in our youth good eating habits."

Dodds said the changes do not affect food and drinks sold in vending machines. While soda is not sold in the cafeterias, it is available, during limited hours, in school vending machines.

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