School lunches expected to get healthier in the future

November 28, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

Washington County Public School lunches are already coming with healthier grains and milks this school year.

And other healthy changes were expected to affect school lunches starting with the 2012-13 school year, but Congress has already altered a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal and might make more changes, Jeff Proulx, county schools’ supervisor of food and nutrition services, said Monday.

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 in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Since Congress approved the act, the USDA proposed making school lunches healthier, Proulx said. A comment period for the federal proposal to change school lunches ended in April.

The situation is unclear at this point, but Proulx said he expects to receive guidance pertaining to healthier school lunches for the next school year from the USDA before Christmas.

Some members of Congress think the USDA’s proposal goes too far, Proulx said.

Receiving national attention recently was Congress’ desire to continue to allow tomato paste to be credited as a vegetable, something the local school system hasn’t done, Proulx said. The USDA’s proposal would not allow tomato paste to be credited as a vegetable, he said.

Earlier this month, Congress scrapped a plan to limit starchy vegetables to one cup a week, Proulx said. Starchy vegetables include potatoes, corn, lima beans and peas.

The portion size for fruits and vegetables was proposed to increase to 1 cup each per meal next school year, but fruits and vegetables are expensive, so that proposal could change, Proulx said.

Some members of Congress are concerned the USDA’s proposals to make school lunches healthier are too stringent and the associated costs for local school systems would be too detrimental, Proulx said.

As for offering healthier breads and milks in school cafeterias, that was an easy switch, so the school system didn’t wait on making those changes, Proulx said.

Starting last July 1, the school system hasn’t offered any white breads or rolls in cafeterias, Proulx said. Instead, breads and rolls are whole wheat or whole grain.

Flavored milk was changed from 1 percent to fat-free, Proulx said. Regular milk was already fat-free.

Other proposed changes to school meals for the next school year are to limit calories and reduce sodium levels in individual school meals, and to ban transfats from school menus.

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