Healthier Options Coming to School Cafeterias
Parsippany Board of Education learns of big changes to menus in fall 2012.
School lunch won't look quite the same come September. At its Thursday night meeting, the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Education learned details of the new nutrition program coming to township public schools.
The changes are coming to allow the district to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a federal law designed to address childhood obesity.
Mark Vidovich, president of Pomptonian Food Service, the district's longstanding vendor, said the basic concept for the effort is to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables, limit bread and meat portion sizes and cut the amount of fat available in the standard school breakfast and lunch.
In a presentation before the board, Vidovich explained the highlights of Parsippany schools' new nutrition program.
- The standard meal will allow students to choose from five components, he said: bread, protein, fruit, vegetable and milk. He said the child to choose items from no fewer than three of the categories, and one must be a fruit or vegetable offering.
- Flavored milk must be fat-free; plain milk will contain 1 percent milkfat.
- Three days per week, meals will include milk as the beverage; only on two days a week may cafeterias offer 100-percent fruit juice.
- To comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture-set maximums, the portion size of protein will be cut from 3.5 ounces to 2.4 ounces for high schoolers and 2.0 for those in elementary school. Bread portions will be reduced by 33 percent.
- Portion sizes for fruits and vegetables will increase.
- The five vegetable subgroups must be featured each week. Those subgroups are dark/green (broccoli, spinach, kale), red/orange (carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes), starchy (corn, green peas, lima beans, white potatoes), beans/peas (kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils) and other (beets, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans).
Vidovich said the plan is mandatory and fines are levied for schools that do not comply.
He added that because the plan focuses most heavily on fruits and vegetables, which are more costly than the food items schools serve now, the law also mandates that the minimum lunch price charged must be raised to $2.51 to cover the additional costs required.
"Just because we give kids a vegetable doesn't mean we can force them to eat it," she said.
"We knew these regulations were going to be expensive due to the increased portion size of vegetables," he said. "It's increasing plate waste."
He added that Pomptonian wants the students to feel fulfilled by the meal.
"If they're not fulfilled, they won't buy more salad," he said. "They'll buy cookies."
To meet this challenge, the program will offer choices to students.
Vidovich said they will be able to purchase a la carte items such as cheese to top their hamburger or fruit juice on days when fruit juice is not part of the standard meal.
He said that in high schools, where sandwiches are made to order, students can order—and pay for—an additional ounce of protein.
Donna Devany, Pomptonian's regional food service director, said that the new food service equipment needed has arrived and is being installed in school kitchens and cafeterias this summer.
She added that it is important that news of the changes are disseminated widely.
"Our fear is that kids will learn about it when they first arrive" when the new school year begins Sept. 6, she noted.
Asked for her opinion, the Board of Education's new Parsippany High School liaison, junior Kelly Higinbotham, agreed.
"Teenagers can have an overreaction if they're surprised by this," she cautioned.
Vidovich said school PTAs have been informed about the changes.
Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz said information will go out to parents this summer and be available on the district website.