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Greenfield schools strive to meet tougher nutrition requirements

July 29, 2014

Greenfield — As Greenfield students sit down to their school lunches this fall, it will be celery, si, but nachos, no — at least until school nutrition experts figure out how to slip the much-favored nachos under the new federal school lunch nutrition requirements.

Since last year, the federal government has come down with increasingly strict nutrition requirements for school lunches. The requirements are for schools that get federal help to provide free or reduced price lunches for students from families meeting low-income guidelines. The nutrition requirements limit such things as calories and salt and boost minimum requirements for such dietary elements as whole grains, legumes and green leafy vegetables.

The trouble with nachos is that the chips and the cheese sauce both have more salt and are more calorie-dense than will be allowed starting this fall. And nachos aren't the only beloved problem food. Tomato sauce that goes on the spaghetti the students love has more salt than will be allowed.

The district's food experts are shopping for ingredients to bring those problem levels down and will develop recipes to make them tasty.

The stricter requirements coming this fall also will make it much harder to hold bake sales and other types of food sales that school groups rely on as fundraisers.

Most affected will be the Greenfield Middle School and the PTAs and other parent organizations in the elementary schools, said Jean Krause, food service director. Many groups hold bake sales during the school day and this fall will come under the nutrition requirements.

"That's were it gets touchy," Krause told the Greenfield School Board on Monday, July 28, during a report on the new federal school nutrition rules. "There's going to be an awful lot of anger."

But Krause said she would soon meet with those groups as well as with school principals to see what adjustments can be made. There are probably 200 food items that could still be sold in the fundraisers, but they would need to be whole grains and low fat, and those kinds of foods are costly, so profits would be lower, she added.

Greenfield High School fundraisers will be less affected by the new rules because many clubs sell food in the evenings or on weekends at sports events, she said. Food sales at those times are exempt from the requirements.

When the nutrition requirements were handed down, Krause and her staff scrambled to slip in healthier foods here and there. The lunches met the requirements, although there was more waste than usual, Krause said. But the kids still bought the lunches.

"We're holding our own," Krause said, and more waste is to be expected as kids transition to the new menus. But as the year progressed, she said she noted less waste and the kids were eating more vegetables.

Greenfield fared better than some schools, such as those in Muskego where lunch sales plummeted, causing some of the schools to pull out of the federal free and reduced price lunch program.

But stricter requirements are coming this fall, and Krause said it will be back to the kitchen to find ingredients and develop recipes to meet the new nutrition requirements and still be tasty.

A new nachos recipe will be among the first on her list to work on. Nachos could still be served this fall, but the helpings would be too small to be satisfying, she said. So, her plan is to avoid nachos until a new recipe is developed.

"It will be back to the kitchen," she said, but added, "I see light at the end of the tunnel."

School Board President Cathy Walsh agreed.

"Over time, they will get food they like," Walsh said. "And they'll get used to the food they're not used to."

The new federal rules call for lunches to be between 550 and 650 calories for elementary students, 600 to 700 calories for middle school students and 750 to 850 for high school students, she said. In a week, elementary students are to be served at least 2.5 cups of fruit and 3.75 cups of vegetables, in addition to other food requirements.

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