JPS get some more lunch menu flexibilityJamestown students may not notice the changes in their school lunches, but starting this week they have had increased options which can lead to more fulfilling meals.
By: By Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Jamestown students may not notice the changes in their school lunches, but starting this week they have had increased options which can lead to more fulfilling meals.
After receiving a letter from Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D. and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., The U.S. Department of Agriculture modified limitations on what can be served for school lunch.
“I was getting calls and input from all over the state from school superintendents, from nutritionists,” Hoeven said. “But from the students themselves, they were writing and texting, emailing us just saying ‘hey there’s not enough flexibility to give kids the kind of meals they need to be satisfied.’”
Hoeven then put together a 10-member bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., to draft a letter to USDA in November.
“We certainly want nutritious meals, no one is arguing that, but the problem is the federal program was a one-size-fits all,” Hoeven said. “In other words, it didn’t have enough flexibility to work for the schools so the kids were unhappy because they couldn’t get the meals they wanted or enough to eat.”
One example Hoeven gave was that before the USDA action, students in kindergarten through eighth grade were limited to 8 ounces of protein a week.
“Obviously you have people of different sizes — you have people out for sports, there just wasn’t the flexibility in there to meet the needs of the kids and we’re hearing a lot about it,” he said.
At the start of the school year USDA mandated changes to the school lunch program for the first time since 1995.
Shelley Mack, food service director at Jamestown Public Schools, has followed USDA-recommended changes for the past 11 years. So the change that took place on Monday wasn’t noticeable for the students.
Changes she’s made include mandating a salad bar visit for middle and high school students, using locally grown produce and incorporating healthier recipes in the menu.
“Basically No. 1, it freed us up to complement our entrees,” Mack said of the new changes. “If I want to serve a breadstick with my chili I can. Who doesn’t like a scoop of cheese or a breadstick with their chili?”
Mack said the biggest changes in Jamestown Public Schools will allow for more grains and proteins to be served.
For example, at the high school Mack is only allowed to serve a maximum of 12 ounces of grains a week to students. That would equal 2.4 ounces of grains a day.
This is difficult because the servings are delivered in whole numbers. It also makes menu planning more difficult, Mack said. With the new flexibility numbers can be whole and extras can occasionally be added.
One of the main things students may notice would be the option of added cheese to their salads, or a piece of bread with a casserole.
“Serving a casserole and adding that extra whole-grain bread, that does make the kids feel fuller,” she said.
JPS Superintendent Bob Toso said he agreed with Hoeven that a change was needed from the current school lunch policy.
“Washington has a tendency when they create polices that one size fits all — and that was not appropriate for us,” Toso said. “I was glad they decided to listen.”
USDA’s changes on limits, however, will only be in effect for the remainder of the school year.
Hoeven said he currently has a nutritionist on staff working with USDA officials. She will also be in touch with state officials later to work on a plan that fits North Dakotans and the rest of the country.
“We’re not done yet, we got them to give schools the flexibility they need this year but now we’re working with them to make sure it’s permanent,” he said. “So we have good nutritious meals, but the schools have the flexibility they need to do it right and well.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org