Healthier school meals are on the menu today
Morgan County Schools continues offering healthier school meals with more fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, whole-grain entrees and portion and caloric guidelines.
West Virginia adopted the requirements of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama in her “Let’s Move!” campaign.
The new federal law requires fruits and vegetables to be offered daily to students, increases whole-grain foods, gives kids fat-free or low-fat milk choices, reduces fats and sodium and restricts calories and portions based on age, according to a West Virginia Department of Education press release.
Morgan County Schools is still serving the same healthier entrees as they have been for the past several years, but they’ve had to adjust portion sizes somewhat to meet the new guidelines, said Child Nutrition Director Kristie Randall.
Salad bars at Berkeley Springs High School, Warm Springs Middle School and Paw Paw Schools were a separate meal choice, but salads and fruits have now been added to the main meal serving line instead.
Entrees are still baked instead of fried. Some meals are made from scratch.
School meals must offer fruit, milk, grains, vegetables and meat or a meat alternative. Randall is required to plan breakfast and lunch choices that meet separate nutritional guidelines for each of these five components for grades K-5, grades 6-8 and grades 9-12.
The saturated fat in each meal must be less than 10% of its total calories. Meals must be below certain ranges of sodium for each age group and have no trans fatty acids.
Vegetables and fruits were previously combined as menu entries, but now must be counted separately, she said.
They also have subgroups of vegetables requirements to meet now, such as dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, and other, Randall said.
Those requirements are met by items like steamed and fresh broccoli or spinach, romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, red potatoes, squash, corn, cucumber, asparagus and green beans.
Schools serve raw carrots, tomatoes and pepper strips. Randall rotates whole baked sweet potatoes, an apple-sweet potato dish and sweet potato puffs on the menu.
“We just have to make it available,” Randall noted of the vegetable choices.
They received fresh fruit and vegetable program grants for Paw Paw Schools and Pleasant View Elementary. Fresh vegetable and fruit snacks are served weekly with nutrition education, Randall said.
Portions have to fall within a specific minimum and maximum range of calories for the different grade levels, which vary for the breakfast and lunch meals.
If students choose everything that’s offered during a meal, they will meet the nutritional guidelines for their age group, she said.
Kids really like the fresh vegetables that they dunk in salad dressing. Middle school and high school kids like the salads, but most elementary schoolchildren aren’t into them, Randall said. Pleasant View Elementary enjoys salads two or three days a week.
Randall offers fresh fruit that’s in season along with canned fruit, which kids like. Younger students enjoy the apple slices in a bag while high school students would rather have an apple.
Presentation is part of the appeal, Randall said. At the high school, melons are beautifully cut into slices or cubes.
Kids loved lasagna with no-cook noodles. Baked sweet potatoes are a favorite at some schools, she said. Tacos are a big hit.
Randall serves taco shells or fish sticks for younger kids and tortillas and fish patties for older students to meet protein and grain specifications.
Students enjoy the fat-free flavored milk, which comes in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
Works with other counties
Randall was meeting weekly with child nutrition directors from Berkeley and Jefferson Counties. Together they were designing a centralized, rotating menu that would meet menu certification.
It’s very time-consuming to plan the menus, analyze components and lay out portion sizes for the cooks, she said. All meals must meet the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s mandated nutritional guidelines and ranges for each age group.
Randall is working to find a happy medium with meals that meet the guidelines, that appeal to students and staff and that are age-appropriate.