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Convincing young people to eat better foods might be challenging

February 06, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The federal government is getting ready to require public schools to begin offering more healthful school meals in the future, but the government can’t force kids to eat them.

“I think some of the greatest challenge(s), from a nutritional perspective” are getting young people to eat the more healthful food, Washington County Public Schools’ Supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services Jeff Proulx told school board members Tuesday. “Without change in the community as a whole, the nutritional change here may be deemed (by some students) as unpalatable.”

The menu changes stem from recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, and are proposed by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Proulx said.

The goals of the proposed federal requirements include reducing childhood obesity and improving the health of the nation’s young people.

The upcoming meal changes apply only to full meals, not to a la carte items, Proulx said.

The a la carte items could, however, be affected by upcoming U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines about what food can be available on school campuses, he said.

Board member Paul Bailey asked about educating parents and students about the changes. He said it won’t do any good to reduce sodium content in school meals if a child goes to a fast-food restaurant for dinner and gets fries.

Proulx said a grant is available in Maryland for schools to provide education on nutrition in the next school year.

Proposed changes to school meals

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The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 proposes several changes to school meals, according to Jeff Proulx, supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services for Washington County Public Schools. The federal government proposes the following meal changes to start being phased in with the 2012-13 school year, but Proulx said he expects to start working on at least some of them in the next school year.

They are:

  • Calorie limits on individual school meals
  • Trans fats would be banned from school menus, though generally anything less than half a gram is considered to be 0 trans fat, Proulx said. During the past two months, the average amount of trans fat in a WCPS meal was less than one-tenth of a gram, he said.
  • Larger serving sizes of fruits and vegetables, which must be a part of individual school meals. Now students must choose at least three of the five meal components for an individual school meal, but fruits and vegetables don’t have to be one of them, Proulx said. Under the proposal, students would have to select a fruit or vegetable.
  • Milk offerings would be limited to low-fat or nonfat. The major change for WCPS would be switching flavored milk to solely the nonfat variety, Proulx said.
  • For the 2012-13 school year, half of grains would have to be whole grains. All grains would have to be whole grains by the 2014-15 school year. This will affect breads, breadsticks, pizza crusts, rice and pasta.
  • Sodium levels in individual school meals would have to be reduced to certain levels by the 2022-23 school year.

Proposed calorie, salt limits per meal

The proposed calorie limits for meals are:


  • Grades nine to 12: 750 to 850 calories for lunch and 450 to 600 calories for breakfast
  • Grades six to eight: 600 to 700 calories for lunch and 400 to 550 for breakfast
  • Kindergarten through fifth grade: 550 to 650 calories for lunch and 350 to 500 for breakfast
  • The proposed salt limits for lunch meals are:
  • Grades nine to 12: no more than 740 mg per meal
  • Grades six to eight: no more than 710 mg per meal
  • Kindergarten through fifth grade: no more than 640 mg per meal


Currently, the average secondary school lunch contains almost 1,600 mg of sodium and the average Washington County Public Schools lunch contains around 1,400 mg of sodium.

The proposed salt limits for breakfast meals are:


  • Grades nine to 12: no more than 500 mg per meal
  • Grades six to eight: no more than 470 mg per meal
  • Kindergarten through fifth grade: no more than 430 mg per meal


Source: Jeff Proulx, supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services for Washington County Public Schools

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