The United States Department of Agriculture states that nearly 32 million students participate in school meal programs every day. First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack initiated new meal requirements in January of 2012.
Jackson Schools Food Service Supervisor Marsha Escola spoke at last Tuesday's board meeting about the changes in school meals.
"All students must have either a fruit or vegetable on their tray in order to be able to purchase school lunch," she said.
The new standards ensure that students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week. Only fat-free milk and low-fat chocolate milk are offered, calories are limited by portion sizes and the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium are reduced.
"We now can only offer whole grains and we must serve all colored fruits and vegetables," said Escola.
While improving the quality of school meals will provide a way of building a healthy future, most school meals have increased in cost for school districts. The United States Department of Agriculture expects that the new standards will cost $3.2 billion over the next five years. School meals at Jackson schools currently cost $2.50 for a student lunch and $3.00 for an adult lunch. Milk is $0.50.
The USDA is making it a priority to create a healthier nation and that starts with children. They have implemented the Team Nutrition initiative, which provides training and nutrition education for children, parents, schools and communities. The USDA awarded Ohio a total of $345,849.00 to help with the cost of the new lunch program standards.
All school lunch programs in Ohio must follow these basic rules in order to keep the grant. They are to provide training and technical assistance to child nutrition food service professionals. They must also provide nutrition education to children, parents and teachers and create healthy school environments that are conducive to healthy eating and physical activity.
Jackson Schools are receiving an additional six cents a meal in funding to be able to implement the changes.
"It is hard to be cost efficient, but we must follow these guidelines," said Escola. She added that it is a big change to the students who are used to the old school lunches.
"We cannot serve any desserts, no cookies, just fruit and a lot of the kids miss the sweet stuff," she said.