Schools manage new school lunch regulations

2012-11-01T06:30:00Z 2012-11-01T07:21:10Z Schools manage new school lunch regulationsLynn Taylor Rick Journal staff Rapid City Journal
November 01, 2012 6:30 am  • 

Vicki Wolff recently served garbanzo beans to students in the Newell School District.

As the food services director of the district, it was a first for her and the students, but Wolff witnessed some pleasing results — a lot of them enjoyed the beans.

"One little girl told her dad she really likes them," said Wolff.

Wolff is one of countless food-services directors in the state and country dealing with new regulations from the United States Department of Agriculture that went into effect this year.

Introduced in January as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the new standards are designed to help change the way America's children eat. The updated school lunch regulations are one part of a broader effort to improve health and fitness in America's children. Statistics released this week show that 15.9 percent of South Dakota's children qualify as obese, while the national number is 19.6 percent.

The new lunch regulations require larger servings of fresh fruits and vegetables; whole grains rather than refined grain products; smaller servings of protein and lower sodium content in meals. The regulations also limit calorie count in school lunches. The USDA has promised schools a 6 cent increase in funding to help manage the changes.

The new regulations have sparked protests in some parts of the country, with older students decrying the smaller portions. Statewide, protests have tended to be more individual and directed to the lunch directors themselves.

"I think it's a good idea," Wolff said of the new regulations. "But I did tell the kids, if you have a problem, you need to contact the USDA."

She has even gone so far as to hand a copy of the new regulations to the students to read themselves. "One girl looked at the calorie restrictions and said, '550 calories? That's a snack,'" Wolff said.

Joe Schaffer, food services director for the Meade School District, oversees three school buildings in Sturgis, as well as a school in Whitewood and Piedmont.

Schaffer said the regulation changes, the first changes to lunch requirements in 15 years, haven't had a huge impact on the Meade district, where he and his staff had already started offering healthier food. The district has served whole grains for several years and began watching sodium content awhile back, he said. As a result, students haven't noticed that much of a change in their lunches this year, he said.

The district bottom line, however, has seen some changes. Fresh fruits and vegetables inevitably cost more, Schaffer said.

"The biggest cost factor is using romaine instead of iceberg lettuce," he said. The change doubled the cost.

The changes also required that more staff be hired, Schaffer said. He added six hours for the 2012-2013 school year, largely taken up by fresh fruit and vegetable prep and serving.

"It just takes more people to serve, and it takes longer to serve," he said.

As for any complaints about the amount of food being served under the new guidelines, Schaffer said the first months were the hardest on students. But Schaffer said that might be more perception than reality.

"We're actually putting more food on the plate this year ... but calorie-wise, it's lower," he said.

Richard Ireland, food services director in the Kadoka School District, has received plenty of complaints about the calorie changes, mainly from high school students.

"They're complaining all the time that they're hungry," Ireland said. "They can get more fruits and vegetables, but they don't want it."

Ireland worries students simply replace the lost calories they would have had at lunch with a bag of chips in their locker later. He believes the limits in protein have an especially negative effect on high school students.

"Wouldn't they have been better off if I gave them three hot dogs? ... It's got to be better for them than that bag of potato chips they just ate," he said.

The changes have also stressed the district's food budget, Ireland said. He estimates it costs the district 30 cents more per plate to fulfill the new requirements. Ireland said Kadoka raised lunch prices by 10 cents to help manage the new requirements but it's not nearly enough. Lunches for kindergarten through fifth grade cost students $2.25. Lunches for students in sixth through 12th grades cost $2.65.

The Rapid City Area Schools district also raised its school lunches five cents in the elementary schools and 10 cents in the high schools this year to help manage costs. Lunches are now $2.05 for elementary students and $2.35 for middle and high school students. The district also hired about five more staff members. 

"It's costing us about 14 cents more a student than it did before. The cost of food (for the district food program) is up," said Janelle Peterson, food services director for the district. "But then so is going to the grocery store to buy food (for the home)."

Peterson said the district, which has a $5 million food service budget, serves about 7,700 meals a day. Like Meade schools, it began implementing some of the USDA changes early, including whole grains and more fruits and vegetables.

"We're just trying to stay about a year ahead of the regulations," she said. "Our kids have been doing this for a number of years. ... We're not losing customers."

Peterson sees the changes as a positive for students in the long run, despite the challenges it creates now. Because students are experiencing fresh fruits and vegetables now, "they're more apt to eat them later (in life) because of that exposure," she said.

All of the school food directors interviewed noted that the new regulations have been the hardest to accept for high school students, who have resisted both the larger fruit and vegetable servings and smaller portions over all.

The elementary students, by contrast, seem more adaptable. Even Ireland, who isn't a fan of the changes, admits his younger customers might be more willing to eat their vegetables in the future thanks to their exposure in school lunches.

"I believe that those kindergartners will probably start eating their vegetables. If we start with them and give them all the healthy stuff every day for the next 12 years, they're probably going to eat a whole lot more fruits and vegetables than my seniors," he said. "I'm sure that will happen. It might eventually work, but it's going to cost a lot of money and a lot of headaches."

Elliott Warshaw is with the Food Services Management Co., which oversees school lunches in the Custer, Hot Springs, Spearfish and Belle Fourche districts. He said that while the regulations have cost districts more and can be challenging, he also sees more grade-school students reaching for the broccoli and carrots.

"We believe that it creates an eating pattern that they can take with them throughout their entire life," he said.

For supporters of the new regulations, that's the goal.

Wolff said her grade school students in Newell continue to "do really well with it." She recently served them fresh squash sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and sugar. She was pleased with their response.

"Some of them really liked it, some didn't," she said. "But at least they tried it."

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. Report Abuse
    - November 05, 2012 1:44 pm
    If you're the age I think you are Jim....

    We didn't sit on our fannies playing video games for hours on-end either. We played outside and burned off calories. The internet and smart phones didn't exist yet, so we had to make up our own fun, generally outside.

    Combine a lack of exercise today with a highly processed cream-noodle and cheese pasta dishes, what's going to happen?

    Again, due to the way our subsidies work, we end up making the (WORST) foods the cheapest, and that's what goes into the school lunch program. That's a problem in my opinion.

    In my day, we had good German cooks in my small home-town, and they made Runzas, (we called them cabbage-burgers then), hamburgers, and frankly lots of vegetables. Kids eat them a lot better if they've not been boiled down to mush. These gals made most of the meals from scratch, and they were GOOD.

    Over time, the pastas and pizzas have taken over - the highly processed stuff. That needs to get pared-back. Note I'm not saying a thing bad about lean meats and whole grains.

    I think it's sad that the people manning the cafeterias have to be "told" things that should be blatantly obvious.
  2. Jim Stewart
    Report Abuse
    Jim Stewart - November 05, 2012 12:32 pm
    I remember way back in my youth when the local schools could prepare meals without federal regulations dictating the menu and don't recall students being fat back then.
  3. combatTVgirl3
    Report Abuse
    combatTVgirl3 - November 02, 2012 12:56 am
    '"They're complaining all the time that they're hungry," Ireland said. "They can get more fruits and vegetables, but they don't want it." 'One girl looked at the calorie restrictions and said, '550 calories? That's a snack,'" Wolff said.' That's part of the problem; the kids don't want more food that's good for them, they want the processed foods they're so used to eating. And Applebee's serves entire meals for 550 calories or less; that's NOT a snack!

    If kids are constantly hungry during the day, take a good look at what they're getting for breakfast. I know it's tough to haul kids out of bed and make them eat something substantial--I do it every morning. But they call it the most important meal of the day for a reason. A bowl of Fruity Pebbles or a cup of coffee isn't enough to get anyone going in the morning; especially a kid. Make sure kids are getting some protein and healthy fats in the morning, and the smaller lunch portions won't be as big of a deal.
  4. crystalp80
    Report Abuse
    crystalp80 - November 01, 2012 9:49 pm
    My child packs a lunch and will continue to. RC school lunches are horrible! I made the decision to pack lunches after going to school to eat with my child. The first time it was pizza that my child and many others had to keep taking back to not get one that was burnt. The next time there was so much gravy (processed of course) and garbage on the plate it made me sick to look at. It was like looking at a $1 banquet frozen dinner! Nothing healthy and what they considered healthy was so cooked to mush it was not healthy. I will keep packing lunches!
  5. goodmorning
    Report Abuse
    goodmorning - November 01, 2012 7:13 pm
    To Peppermint1900, My neighbor is in the Rapid City School District and next week when I go to vote on Tuesday, I'm going to stop in the school office and ask because I can't believe it either. Of course, my grandkids go to school in Wyoming and they can't wear heavy coats or anything with a logo or words on it except for their school letter jackets or sweatshirts so I guess anything is possible.
  6. tiredwrkr
    Report Abuse
    tiredwrkr - November 01, 2012 6:37 pm
    if it was left up to me the school lunches would go back to real meals, roasts with potatoes, gravy a vegtable, salad and cake fpor dessert and white milk. goulash, chili , and the sort . real meals but to do this the schools would have to get of the federal govt. trough. which if the truth be known they could probably operate much better at a lower cost and for crying out loud go back to the old ways of teaching reading and math. from the high school grads i see today looking for work , most are at maybe a 5th grade level.
  7. Report Abuse
    - November 01, 2012 3:14 pm

    You people are griping about our kids being fed healthier less-processed food? Griping about more vegetables when the obesity rate among kids is rising like mad? It's rising like mad among the adults too.

    We all should be following a similar program. Toss the processed cream-sauced with cheese pasta dishes and eat some broccoli that hasn't been boiled till it's mush.

    Our farm subsidies are all wrong, they're helping to fund overly-processed foods that are awful for us, driving up weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Look it up.

    I'm not against lean meat, I'm against processed stuff, counting catchup as a vegetable, and high sugar-content stuff like chocolate milk. The processed stuff digests too easy and turns right to fat. With kids playing video games instead of playing outside, and when they eat the processed stuff, what's gonna happen??.........
  8. peppermint1900
    Report Abuse
    peppermint1900 - November 01, 2012 2:13 pm
    I have never heard of a school district where you can't pack a lunch for your own kids. I think I would be fighting that tooth and nail if I were a parent. What school district are you in?
  9. goodmorning
    Report Abuse
    goodmorning - November 01, 2012 11:51 am
    If I was going to school now, I would be very hungry at lunch as I can not eat wheat, dairy, or sugar even the "natural" sugar in fruit. At over $2 for a lunch that I couldn't eat the majority of, I probably would not eat at lunch and rely on food that that I could eat that my parents would have me smuggle in. How is a child with certain health conditions accommodated? The article never mentioned that. My neighbor with three grade school children says that she would prefer to pack a lunch for her children but that is not allowed. $30 a week for lunches takes a hefty bite out of the grocery money.
  10. Brad
    Report Abuse
    Brad - November 01, 2012 9:06 am
    I think it's funny that in an area that thrives off of ranching we are taking meat out of our lunches. I have a 7th grader and a 4th grader and both are hungry and looking for a snack when they get home from school. One thing that isn't being mentioned in any of these articles is how kids don't function as well in the classroom or in extracaricular activities when they're hungry. You want to see how well these new lunch programs are working go check out a classroom late in the school day and see how well the kids are focused and how hard they are working, then go to the sports practice after school and see how sluggish they are in practice because they're hungry. Like it was stated in the article is it better to give them a larger portion of meat or let them be hungry and scarf down a candy bar or chips at they're locker?
  11. Roland
    Report Abuse
    Roland - November 01, 2012 8:24 am
    More expensive, more food going into the garbage. Sounds about right for government involvement.
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