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May 21, 2018
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Stillwater News

USDA eases portion requirements for school lunches

Move makes temporary changes permanent

Jan. 24, 2014 - Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was making permanent the flexibility that schools were granted last year relating to meat, meat alternatives (such as cheese), bread and grain portions for students.

Before the changes were initially made in February 2012, schools were required to adhere to strict daily and weekly maximum portion sizes, which were outlined in the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. With the newly-granted flexibility, schools can increase these portion sizes as long as meals still adhere to federal calorie guidelines. School lunches must not exceed 650 calories for grades K-5, 700 calories for grades 6-8 and 850 calories for grades 9-12.

While students in many districts across the country have been seeing these larger portions for almost a year, making the changes permanent offers districts greater stability in their long-term food planning.

The result of these changes has been more creativity and flexibility in school menus, in many cases. When the new federal law was first implemented, schools found they could no longer serve a dinner roll with a pasta lunch because that meant too many bread servings, for example. The initial law also meant that you couldn’t put cheese on a meatball sub or a turkey sandwich, or serve a healthy quinoa salad with a sandwich. Many districts were also having a difficult time meeting the calorie requirements with a main dish because the portion sizes were so limited.

“We have already made changes in our meal patterns to accommodate the relaxed guidelines to allow us to increase portion sizes for our students,” said Stillwater Food Services Director John MacDonald. “We strive to maintain a balance between USDA, New York State Department of Education, and other guidelines, as well as our students’ preferences.”

Federal guidelines require that school meals align with the latest in nutritional science, with the intent being to not only feed students but also to educate students about making healthy food choices. The new law has meant more fruits and vegetables, more legumes and whole grains, limits on sodium and saturated fats, and elimination of trans fats. The initial lunch changes were made in the 2011-2012 school year, with similar changes made to breakfast menus for the 2013-2014 year. Changes to snack offerings will come in the 2014-2015 school year.

Some content courtesy of Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio; Copyright 2013; All rights reserved. For more information or permission to use, call 518-464-3960.

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