SARANAC LAKE - Ruth Pino has had a busy summer adjusting the Saranac Lake Central School District's lunch menus to fit new federal guidelines for school lunches that kick in this school year, which begins this week.
The changes were implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Among other things, the new regulations require schools to serve students both fruits and vegetables every day of the week, provide more whole grains and reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium served to kids. The total number of calories a student can eat is also being capped in an effort to ensure proper portion size.
"The new nutrition guidelines are national," Pino, the district's food service director, told the school board last month. "Everyone has to make these changes. For some, it's going to be a drastic change. For us, I don't think it's going to be that bad because I've slowly been implementing them all."
Students get lunch at the Petrova School cafeteria in 2008 in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise file photo — Emily Hunkler)
Pino said the changes are not optional; they're mandatory. She said schools that comply will be reimbursed 6 cents per meal per student.
The biggest change, Pino said, is she's had to create more menus to ensure all the district's schools comply with the new regulations. The menus will eventually be posted on the school district's website, saranaclakecs.org.
"There's a minimum and maximum calorie requirement for each age group," Pino said. "It used to be just a minimum, so if the minimum was 825 you could go up to 900 in a week. Now it's a minimum and maximum, so I've had to separate the menus out. When people are asking why there are so many menus posted, it was really the only way I could meet all the requirements and still give our students all the options."
Schools now have to offer all the subgroups of vegetables over the course of a week, which means students will see more chickpeas and bean soups than before, Pino said.
Limits on portion sizes will be another noticeable change, Pino said. The new regulations include a maximum amount of meat that can be offered - 12 ounces per week.
"If you do the math, obviously we can't give 3 ounces of meat to a high school senior five days a week, or I'd be over. We really feel that's going to be an issue. But I played around with it. There's some days you can give less and give more. What we can do is offer a half entree as an a la carte option and charge nothing for it.
"Let's say we're having chicken fingers: If I give them 2 ounces, we can say, 'Would you like a half-entree a la carte as well?' And if a student says yes, then I can give them another chicken tender."
"You're essentially trying to maintain some portion sizes for kids that will not make them just throw their hands up and say, 'I can't eat this; I've gotta have more,'" said Superintendent Gerald Goldman.
Dan Bower, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said offering the a la carte option won't be any extra cost to the district and still complies with the new guidelines.
"Thank goodness for Ruth," Bower said. "This is extremely way more complex than it needs to be. She's figured it out, and she's not been afraid to call the state and ask them questions."
Pino said she's spent a lot of time this summer crafting the new menus. She noted that some of the changes had already been made over the last two years.
"Now students have to take a fruit or a vegetable for it to be reimbursable," Pino said. "That was never a law, but it was Ruth's law, and for the past two years I've been getting ready for this. For our students, it's not going to be, 'What do you mean I have to take my vegetables?' because they know that they have to.
"Now half the grains have to be whole grain. Our students already for the past two years have had nothing but wheat bread. That's not going to be a change for them."
The new federal guidelines may not be the only thing that will affect school lunches this year. Board member Terry Tubridy asked if the ongoing drought in the western U.S. will impact the district's food costs.
Bower said he's heard it could increase costs by 15 percent.
"It's going to be expensive," Pino said, noting that she does try to buy some fruits and vegetables locally. "But there will be an impact."
For more information about the new lunch standards, visit www.fns.usda.gov/healthierschoolday.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New school lunch guidelines
By The Associated Press
New U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches will take effect this fall, including the first national calorie and sodium limits for what can be served on lunch lines. A look at what the new guidelines require, according to the School Nutrition Association:
-Grades K-5: 8 to 9 servings per week
-Grades 6-8: 8 to 10 servings per week
-Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 servings per week
-Students should have at least one serving of grains each day, and one-half of offerings must be rich in whole grain.
-Grades K-5: 8 to 10 ounces per week
-Grades 6-8: 9 to 10 ounces per week
-Grades 9-12: 10 to 12 ounces per week
-Nuts, tofu, cheese and eggs can be substituted for meat in some cases.
-Grades K-12: 1 cup per day
-Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk options are allowable.
-Grades K-8: One-half cup per day
-Grades 9-12: One cup per day
-Only half of the weekly fruit requirement can come from juice.
-Grades K-8: Three-quarters cup per day
-Grades 9-12: One cup per day
-Weekly requirements for vegetable subgroups, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and others.
-By July 2014, sodium levels for lunches should not exceed:
-Grades K-5: 640 milligrams
-Grades 6-8: 710 milligrams
-Grades 9-12: 740 milligrams
-A timetable sets targets for further reducing sodium levels by 2022.
-No more than 10 percent saturated fats. No trans fat, except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy products.
-Grades K-5: 550 to 650 per day
-Grades 6-8: 600 to 700 per day
-Grades 9-12: 750 to 850 per day
-Calories can be averaged over the week.