Better food, more choices for school lunch

Regional School District 13 Food Services Director Mark Basil recently spoke with Town Times about the state’s new regulations to ensure more nutritious food is making its way to students’ lunch trays. “The changes are good,” he said.

RSD13 is part of the National School Lunch Program, a federally-assisted meal program for students. As part of that program, the local school system has elected to be an Offer Versus Serve district referred to as OVS.

This means that a lunch is reimbursed by the state as long as the student takes three of the five components being offered, including a fruit and vegetable. The components are: grain, dairy, meat or meat alternative (like yogurt or beans), fruit, and vegetable. The goal of OVS is to reduce waste by not forcing students to take food they don’t intend to eat.

But there is some waste. “We have the students take a fruit and a vegetable,” Basil said, “so that we can get reimbursed. And then they go around the corner and throw them away. There’s a lot of waste.”

“We tell them that if they are not going to eat their fruit and vegetable, give them to somebody else,” said Jane Schmitt, kitchen manager. “Don’t throw them away.”

The new regulations increase the portion size of fruits and vegetables and decrease the portion size of meat. There are more beans, in different forms. Whole grains instead of white flour. No salt shakers on the tables. The vending machines have baked (not fried) chips, water, 100 percent juice, and no soda. Basil has brought in a variety of fresh local produce. “The kids are not big vegetable eaters,” he said. “With these regulations we are trying to find something they like. We figure they would like fresh vegetables more than frozen ones.”

High school students have several choices for their lunch. There’s a sandwich station (sandwiches can be made-to-order), the salad and soup stations, a hot and spicy stations with grinders and wraps made-to-order, and a main entrée station, which serves Mexican, Oriental, and Italian food.

Basil said there is more resistance at the high school level to the requirement for fruits and vegetables because these students are old enough to make their own decisions, and they resent the state telling them what to eat.

“The state is trying to get kids healthier,” Basil said, “but they can find what they want outside of school. We see them come in with Dunkin’ Donuts, and we can’t control that. The kids aren’t driven to develop good eating habits.

“A lot of this has to come from nutritional education in the classroom, and from home. If a student buys lunch every day of the school year, it equates to only 16 percent of his or her annual food intake.”

But Basil remains hopeful. “We’re trying to create healthy eating patterns, and the regulations are helpful. I think things are coming around. Maybe what we’re doing here will expand into breakfast and dinner.”

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