by Dennis Dalman
Some students in Sartell are feeling a bit like Oliver Twist in the lunch line these days.
Charles Dickens’ hungry waif, in the workhouse, dares to bring his empty gruel-bowl to the mean server and ask, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
Well, it’s not that bad, to be sure. But, still, some students are complaining they are not getting enough to eat at lunch because of new federal guidelines that began this school year.
Sartell schools offer a breakfast and lunch every day. Most students skip the breakfast but do line up for lunch and/or at the a la carte area.
The new regulations are requirements under the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2010. The goal of the Act was to ensure all students get daily adequate nutrition and a diet that would help make a dent in what’s sometimes known as the nation’s obesity epidemic.
Brenda Braulick is the food director for the Sartell-St. Stephen School District. It took Braulick and her staff an enormous amount of time to learn and to adapt the federal requirements to day-to-day lunches.
The new meals are strictly limited. For example, each lunch varies depending on which grade level students are in: grades K-5, grades 6-8, grades 9-12. For instance, all students get 2 ounces of meat or protein meat-equivalent at each lunch, but those in grades 9-12 get slightly more. All students receive one cup of milk, which must be skim milk or 1 percent milk. Each meal also offers grain-based foods and – most importantly – ample servings of fruit and vegetables of all varieties. Students are required to take a serving of vegetables and fruits. If they do not, the lunch program can be docked from receiving federal funds.
All meal ingredients are calibrated from charts that show exactly what each lunch must contain in the way of nutrients and calories. Students in grades K-5, for instance, receive 550-650 calories per meal while those in the older grades receive 750-850 calories per meal.
Saturated fats cannot provide more than 10 percent of total calories. Forms of trans fat are not served. Sugars are very limited. Sodium (salt) is limited and will be phased out eventually.
Braulick said she sympathizes with students who say they are not getting enough to eat but that the hands of her and her staff are tied by federal guidelines, although she does vouch for the healthy nutrition and tasty variety of the meals. She encourages all students to eat all of their vegetables, fruits and milk, which will help them feel full.
“It’s a big change, so I sympathize with students,” Braulick said. “But I cannot change the federal regulations. On the district’s webpage, I put the contact information where students or parents can register complaints or concerns to the government.”
The a la carte area of the cafeteria gives students – at least those who can afford it – more options for eating, although the a la carte snacks and entrees also tend to be very low-fat, healthy and nutritious. For 50 cents, students can purchase such items as green salads with fixings such as cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bread sticks and low-calorie condiments and dressings. Other a la cart items can include sandwiches, baked chips, chicken tenders, small individual pizzas and one-ounce cookies, to name just some.
Lunches cost $2.50 (under-cost) and are subsidized through federal funds and through proceeds of the a la carte section.
Braulick said she has heard some students are unhappy with the lunches but that no one has yet contacted her personally – at least not up to the time of her Sept. 17 interview with the Sartell Newsleader.
“Some were used to the very generous ample meals of last year,” Braulick said. “This year, we serve double the amount of vegetables and fruit. Each high-school student now gets a cup of veggies and a cup of fruits at each meal.”
To educate parents and students, Braulick has sent mailings home. She has met with parent-teacher organizations, student councils, and she made a video about the new lunch program available. She also sent letters to school staff.
Braulick said the government became concerned because bad eating habits – and obesity – could cause the coming generation to not outlive their parents. The changes came about first through recommendations by the National Institute of Medicine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA then brought its recommendations to the U.S. Congress.
In recent years Braulick and her staff have gone the extra mile to make all meals as nutritious and fat-free as possible. They also introduced many new and nutritious foods for students to try. Another innovation was the Farm to School program for which the district purchases fresh, locally grown foods from farmers.
Just last week, in fact, the students were served corn-on-the-cob provided by a farmer near Foley. Braulick is hoping students adjust to the new lunch program and also hopes the lunches will help make students healthier. Students who don’t go home right after school because they have extracurricular activities might want to bring a tide-over bag lunch for later or some nutritious, filling snacks like granola bars, apples or oranges.
The following are a couple of typical lunches as cooked and served under the guidelines of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act: Meal 1: Spaghetti with 1/4-cup meat sauce; garlic bread; romaine lettuce (1 cup); cucumber slices (1/4 cup); diced pears (1/2 cup); banana; milk (1 cup).
Meal 2: Hamburger on whole-grain bun; french fries (1/2 cup); broccoli buds (1/4 cup); melon chunks (1/2 cup); applesauce (1/4 cup); milk (1 cup).
For more information on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, go to: www.fns.usda.gov,cnd/Governance/Legilation/nutritionstandards.htm
Parents may also want to visit the School District Service webpage: www.sartell.k12.mn.us. Pull down menu to “District Services,” then click on “Food Service.”