“School lunches a balancing act to satisfy diverse populations, loosened regulations”

Original post from Wicked Local – 

(Below is an excerpt. Read full article here)

Newton Public Schools uses Whitsons’ service. Stephen Marshall, the business and grant analyst for the district who oversees their partnership with Whitsons, said his schools really want to be sure students eat their lunch.

“Eliminating waste is key,” he said. “For us, it’s a matter of offering the most-nutritional options that students are likely to eat. That’s the balancing act. It does us no good if we offer healthy foods that kids take one bite out of and then throw away.”

Marshall said exposing different foods to children at as early an age as possible will encourage them to seek out different meals as they grow older.

“When kids are exposed to whole grains at an early age, for example, they will be much more likely to accept that food in their diets once they have to make the choice to buy lunch at school,” he said.

A shift in regulations

In late 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture, under the direction of President Donald Trump, finalized plans to roll back regulations set forth in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that were advocated for by then-first lady Michelle Obama. Specifically, the rollback lowered nutrition standards for whole grains, flavored beverages and the sodium content of lunches served in school cafeterias.

Friend said it is ultimately up to individual districts to decide if they want to change their nutritional offerings, but Whitsons advocates for the guidelines outlined in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. For example, the new regulations will require 50 percent whole-grain offerings, but Whitsons will continue to offer a 100 percent whole-grain menu.

Friend acknowledged some districts might consider it a positive to be able to offer fewer whole grains, if they think students will be more likely to buy the alternatives. She said plain bagels and white rice are common examples of this. This gets at the balancing act of offering healthy foods versus providing options students will actually order.

“A lot of it is a perception,” she said. “If kids are more familiar with white products, that’s what they want to eat. But the younger the student is, the more likely it is that they will have been given those options their whole lives.”

Marshall said Newton will continue to adhere to the guidelines in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, even though participation in the school lunch program is around 30 percent, a number he considers “relatively low.”

“No matter what, it would be a big step backward to undo all the hard work we did after the (Obama-era) regulations were formed,” he said. “I think a lot of people realize the value of eating healthier and cutting certain things out of their diets.”

By Matthew Reid, Aug 27, 2019