News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 14, 2012

School meals must meet new no-junk food requirement

New federal guidelines seek to reduce obesity in kids

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Larger portions of fruits and vegetables will be on the trays of students eating hot lunches in the Vigo County School Corp. this year.

The trays also should have a colorful combination of healthy foods — with no junk food allowed.

Tom Lentes, food service coordinator for the school district, said new federal guidelines aimed at curbing childhood obesity in American school kids have caused some changes in how meals are served up.

“As far as junk food stuff, Vigo County is ahead of the ballgame on this one,” Lentes said.

The lunch lines offer only baked chips or snacks — no candy bars or sodas — and only water or a sports drink, if appropriate. And any vending machines in the buildings are not turned on until after the school day, so that students who do stay after for athletics or other activities will have some snack available.

“Every tray this year has to have a fruit or vegetable on it,” Lentes said.

In the past, students could decline a helping of creamed corn or diced apples, or other good-for-you items — but no more. That may mean the food still goes uneaten, but at least the students have been given the opportunity to eat healthy choices.

A big change, he said, has been the setting of a maximum number of weekly servings on proteins and whole grains, as part of the effort to curb child obesity. That means that burgers and some bread portions will be smaller.

The school system has already served low-sodium and low-fat foods for the past five to six years, following federal guidelines.

Indiana has no state law setting school lunch requirements. Lentes said that leaves the school districts responsible for following federal guidelines set by the school lunch program, which reimburses schools for the cost of student meals. Those who want to get that federal money will follow the guidelines, he said.

“Our state guidelines are the same as the U.S.D.A.,” he said. “The state comes out once a year and does an audit, training and workshops.”

And there is a new program for youngsters at Deming and Franklin elementaries. Students will be given a free veggie snack during the day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is an effort to boost brain energy and stave off the mid-afternoon sleepiness that some kids experience.

Each teacher will be allowed to determine when the snack fits into their class time, and the students will have choices such as sliced apples or veggies and dip.

Helping to educate the children about what they are consuming is another way to combat childhood obesity and encourage better eating habits.

Lentes said students have been shown the unhealthiness of some soda drinks. They have seen demonstrations how many spoonsful of sugar is in a regular cola, while how comparatively few are in a diet drink.