New School Year Brings Big Changes To School Lunches

Aug 20, 2012

New rules on what can and can’t be served on cafeteria trays are going in effect for the start of a new school year.  The menu calls for more fruits and vegetables, and the state is working to encourage kids to those fruits and veggies instead of throwing them away.

Healthier meals don’t have to spell the end of traditional lunch stables like pizza and French fries. That’s according to Robin Safley, health of the Florida Department of Agriculture’s school nutrition department. She says the new rules just mean schools will have to get creative in the kitchen.

“So what you can do is take a pizza, have it made with a whole-wheat crust. The cheese on it, which is a meat-alternate, can be a reduced sodium, low-fat mozzarella cheese, and then you can use a homemade, or a sodium free, natural spaghetti sauce.” 

Whole milk has been replaced by fat-free and reduced fat options, and students are required to take either a fruit or vegetable during lunch. Portion sizes will also be smaller, and pastas and breads will have to be made from whole grains.  The state is trying to encourage kids to eat their fruits and vegetables and not throw them away, and the state is amping up its outreach and introducing programs such as a “vegetable of the week” and a “sharing table."

“If you opt not to eat something on your plate and it’s in a container of some sort, you can take it to a share table and leave it for someone else," said Safley.

But getting kids to eat healthier may be easier than officials think. Already in place in many schools are salad bars. Claire Anderson is the Principal at Tallahassee’s Springwood Elementary School. She says that’s a popular option for her students.

“When you go in the lunchroom you’ll see there’s always a salad available and the students like that and we have a huge number of students who will opt for the salad lunch and I think it’s making a difference," said Claire Anderson, Principal of Tallahassee's Springwood Elementary School. 

The cost of the new school lunch nutrition rules is unknown. But the Department of Agriculture says districts could see an additional six-cents-per-meal federal reimbursement increase once they have their school lunch menus approved by the state. Those menus are due in October. And while six-cents may not sound like a lot of money, Safley says it adds up, considering Florida school cafeterias serve hundreds of thousands of meals a day.