In May of 2012, federal legislatures voted the “2012 Childhood Hunger Free Act” into law. This law directly affects all Child Nutrition programs across the country, including our school feeding programs.
The hunger free act was created to address the issues of childhood obesity by increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables children eat, decreasing meal portion sizes, providing tighter controls on fat and trans-fat and by regulating grains and whole fat dairy products consumed. There are other provisions in the law, but the key points are those listed above.
How will this affect your child’s breakfast or lunch that is consumed at school? I’m pleased to say that at Portage Schools we proactively put many of the newly recommended changes into place several years ago, so while other school districts will see vast changes, our students won’t see much of a difference.
You may have heard complaints about our milk products last year because we switched from 1% & 2% milk to 1% white and skim white, chocolate and strawberry. Initially the students didn’t like the taste but ultimately they got used to it and their consumption increased. That change is mandatory this year so we are ahead of the issue.
We have been offering two fresh fruits and vegetables every day for at least the past five years. Colorful fruits and vegetables add variety and appeal to our meals and students respond positively to those. Even more will be offered this year and we’ll be serving some new things too while we teach them to eat their colors!! Once again we are ahead of the issue but starting this year they will be required to take one serving of vegetables or fruit on their lunch tray every day. We will be serving specific color and types of vegetables and fruit each day, including red, orange, yellow, starch etc. to meet the new regulations.
Grains must be 50 percent whole grain this year and 100 percent whole grain by the 2013-2014 school year. We introduced whole grains last year, and we will be adding more this year to help make that an easier transition. For the first time we are required to have minimum and maximum grain servings. We are diligently working to incorporate that into our menus.
Also new this year is minimum and maximum calorie and sodium requirements, and over the next five years, there will be additional phase-in regulations to further limit sugar and sodium, and other food limitations.
Portions sizes of vegetables and fruit servings have been increased and portion sizes of protein items have been decreased. We will now be offering more bean and legume entrées and side items.
There will be little change in our breakfast items this year; those are scheduled to come into play in the years to come, but for right now we are on target.
The face of Child Nutrition is rapidly changing but we are diligently working to implement and keep up with the new requirements and regulations for the benefit of our students. Healthy eating is so important to a healthy lifestyle and I know we all want the best for our kids, so we’ll continue to improve and make our meals better!
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.