By Teachers, For Teachers
July 02--Hawaii students will see more fruits and vegetables and less bread in their school lunches starting this fall, under new federal rules aimed at helping to tackle the nation's obesity problem.
State officials say that while Hawaii had to make relatively small changes to its school lunches to meet the new nutrition standards compared with other states, kids are likely to notice a few differences.
The biggest among them: larger healthy side dishes.
Elementary school students, for example, will get 3/4 of a cup of vegetables and a 1/2 cup of fruit daily in the coming school year. They had been getting 3/4 cup of fruit and vegetables combined.
High school students will get a full cup each of fruits and vegetables daily, and all ages will be served at least 1/2 cup of legumes (peas or beans) throughout the week, the Department of Education said.
Students will also see fewer servings of bread.
"The menu items were always healthy," said Glenna Owens, director of the DOE's School Food Services Branch. "The change for Hawaii is the increased portion sizes. Really what they're (students) are going to say is, 'Wow, there's a lot more on our plate.'"
Dexter Kishida, school food coordinator for the Kokua Foundation's 'AINA in Schools Program, which aims to integrate farming and better nutrition into schools, said more noticeable changes may come in the 2013-14 school year, when the DOE is set to debut innovative recipes that incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. He said it's not enough to simply add more healthy foods to school lunches. The healthier food also has to taste good.
"If we do a huge turn and kids throw it away, what's the point?" he said.
The state serves some 100,000 school lunches daily.
Owens said that in the 2012-13 school year, the bigger portions of fruits and vegetables are expected to boost the cost of preparing lunches by $1 million or more, which will likely be covered with federal dollars. The $2.35 price of lunch is not expected to go up, she said.
The federal changes to school lunches, which include tougher standards for everything from how many calories are in meals to how much sodium kids get, were the first major changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Lunch Program in 15 years.
The standards will be phased in nationwide over the next three years, starting in the 2012-13 school year.
The changes to school lunches also come amid a growing push nationally and in Hawaii to incorporate more fresh and locally grown food.
Owens said Hawaii was already ahead of the curve in many respects in making school lunches healthier. For years, school lunches in the islands have had no trans fat; all baked goods were at least half whole wheat; rice was at least half brown; and no deep fryers were allowed in school cafeterias.
And last school year, Hawaii pledged to make at least 15 of 25 entrees a month from scratch -- a major commitment for the 10th-largest school district in the nation.
Owens said making entrees from scratch cuts down on processed foods, which means kids are eating less sodium and fat. "In comparison to other states, the transition (to the new standards) was easier," she said. "Our students were already getting whole wheat breads, healthy entrees made from scratch, fruits and vegetables every day, and 1 percent low-fat or skim milk."
Joannie Dobbs, a nutritionist and faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences Department, said that while more fruits and vegetables are a positive step forward, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure school lunches are offering the right nutrition.
She pointed out that the new requirements do not take into account the individual needs of kids.
"There is a weight issue, no two ways about it," she said. "But if we don't consider the individual child, are we doing them a favor?"
Dobbs acknowledged that individualizing lunches would be a daunting undertaking but questioned the sense in cutting calories, for example, for kids who come from households where food is not plentiful. She also asked why a large boy should get the same number of calories as a small girl.
"It's a different discussion, and I don't think it's going to happen any time soon," she said.
Image source: San Francisco Chronicle