School cafeterias – where thousands of East Valley students eat lunch each day – are going gourmet, sort of.
In an effort to comply with new federal school meal standards, East Valley school districts are revamping their menus and adding items like chunky vegetable salad and whole grain muffins and cookies.
As part of the reauthorization of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), schools are now required to offer different portions of fruits and vegetables, as well as different types. They’re also required to use whole grain options.
“When the parents and students see the new varieties of the food offerings and the changes -- the high school and junior high students will have a hummus and vegetable plate offered — I think they’ll still see school lunch as a great value for the nutrition and variety that’s offered,” said Mesa Unified School District’s Loretta Zullo, who oversees the food and nutrition department.
New school nutrition regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture became final July 1, after several months of input from schools, said Wes Delbridge, food and nutrition supervisor for Chandler Unified School District.
“The biggest change is the requirement for fruits and vegetables. That the student – elementary, junior high and high school – they have to take a certain portion side of fruits and vegetables and they have to be offered a certain type, dark-green leafy, orange-red and legumes. We have minimums of what we have to offer per week,” he said, adding the district plans to offer dark green and orange-red fruits and vegetables daily.
Delbridge and Zullo said their staffs have been testing recipes for a while to find food that fits the requirements, and is tasty.
To meet the grain requirements, Zullo said only brown rice and whole grain pizza crust will be offered. At the junior high and high schools, the pizza will be thin crust.
“The kids are going to see some changes, but we’re still seeking out quality products. We want them to still have the kid-favorite type of food in the formulations. We’re hoping we’re coming up with a formula that will be successful,” she said.
Chandler has also created a whole grain, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie and a whole grain chocolate muffin.
And for the vegetable and fruit requirements, “What we’re going to do to increase variety, we’re going to offer quarter cups of fruit or vegetable and they would take two. It could be pineapple bites, broccoli and cauliflower, or side salad and whole apple. Every day will be different,” Delbridge said.
School lunch prices have increased in some East Valley schools because of the new requirement by the USDA that schools cover the cost of the meal without subsidizing from the federal free and reduced-price meal program.
Chandler prices went up a quarter – to $2.50. Mesa prices went up 10 cents for the elementary school and junior high school lunches and a quarter for the high school lunches.
Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or firstname.lastname@example.org