School cafeterias will feature more healthful lunches this fall in keeping with new United States Department of Agriculture meal requirements taking effect.
School food service directors say such a move has been in the making for several years, which many of them already have put into practice.
One major adjustment for students will be their meals must include at least a half cup of a fruit or vegetable to be considered a complete meal.
Other changes, already in progress locally, include incorporating more whole grains, a limit on bread and protein servings, and reduced fats and sodium or salt.
In Crown Point, nine schools recently were named recipients of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge Silver Award, which recognizes schools that meet high nutrition standards and provide nutrition education and physical fitness activities for students.
Julie Boettger, School City of Hammond food service director, said the district has been working toward the changes for a while, having discarded all its fryers and staying within calorie guidelines for students. School officials also intend to start an advisory council to develop menus that appeal to high school students.
"Duneland has been serving fresh fruits on all our lunch lines for 20 years," according to Kay Nellenweg, Duneland Food Service director.
The district also bakes, not fries, its food.
Nellenweg said the Chesterton High School cafeteria had two rooms with four lines each, designed to compete with fast food -- the trend some 12 years ago. But the cafeteria is being revamped to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Four local school districts -- including the Gary Community School Corp., Griffith Public Schools, Lake Ridge Schools and the MSD of Boone Township -- outsourced their food service to Chartwells.
George Letz, superintendent of the MSD of Boone Township, said it was outsourced for efficiency last year and Chartwells does a great job meeting federal standards.
"We don't know how many bring their lunch. About 25 percent of our students get free and reduced lunch," he said. "We've been very happy with their service."
Karen Dittrich, Chartwells' marketing director, said Chartwells School Dining Services manages food service for 20 school districts in Northwest Indiana and Illinois and more than 550 public school districts nationwide.
"We serve approximately 2.7 million students in over 6,000 elementary, middle and high schools across the country," Dittrich said. "Most of the food service operations are governed by the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and, therefore, strictly adhere to USDA meal-planning guidelines."
With First Lady Michelle Obama's push for more healthful meals and emphasis on the White House garden and the "Let's Move" campaign, Boettger said her department is thrilled that some Hammond elementary schools like Kenwood Elementary have developed "teaching gardens."
While the garden may not have enough volume to feed entire schools, she said members of her department will be happy to work with children on "preparing a meal so they can taste the fruits and vegetables they've planted."