New school lunch rules take effect July 1

PUNXSUTAWNEY — School lunches will again receive a bit of a makeover, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act takes effect July 1.

During the Punxsutawney Area School Board’s committee meeting Wednesday, district Cafeteria Manager Denise Geist gave the board a preview of the new guidelines, which, according to the USDA, “align school meals with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools.”

Some of the highlights include:
• Currently, the requirement for a serving of fruit is a half-cup per student, which, under the new guidelines, increases to a half-cup minimum for grades K-8 and a one-cup minimum for grades nine through 12.

• Current regulations call for a half-cup per student per day of vegetables, which will increase to three-quarters of a cup minimum for K-8 per day and one-cup minimum for grades 9-12 per day.

The new guidelines also call for a weekly combination of dark green vegetables; red/orange vegetables; legumes; starchy foods,
such as potatoes; and other vegetables.

• New for next year, students must take at least a half-cup serving of fruit or vegetable in order for the meal to be reimbursable to the district by the USDA.

“We want to make sure we have a combination of fruit and vegetables on every tray,” Geist said.

• Under grains, the current requirement calls for at least 50 percent of grains to be whole grain, but starting in the 2013-14 school year, 100 percent of grains must be whole grain.

Current guidelines for grains call for eight servings per week, or a minimum of one serving per day.

The new requirements call for eight to nine ounces weekly for grades K-5; eight to 10 ounces weekly for grades 6-8; and 10 to 12 ounces weekly for grades nine through 12.

• The existing requirements for meat/meat alternates are 1.5 ounces to two ounces of protein per day. The new requirement calls for at least a minimum of one ounce of meat/meat alternate daily for grades K-8 and at least a minimum of two ounces of meat/meat alternates daily for grades nine through 12.

• The current requirement for milk — offering a variety of one-percent or fat-free milk and only fat-free flavored milk — will not change.

• Under calories, the current requirements are 633 calories for grades K-3; 785 for grades 4-7; and 825 for grades 7-12.

The new regulations call for 550-650 calories for grades K-5; 600-700 for grades 6-8; and 750-850 for grades 9-12.

Geist said that might be a challenge because eighth-grade students attend the high school, but she said those guidelines might be tweaked before the start of the 2012-13 school year.

• There are no current requirements regarding sodium, but the new requirement, effective during the 2014-15 school year, calls for less than 1,230 mg for grades K-5; less than 1,360 mg for grades 6-8; and less than 1,420 mg for grades 9-12.

Those numbers will eventually decrease, culminating with the 2022-23 school years.

Geist said that’s 10 years for school districts and food manufacturers to knock down sodium in school meals.

With the changes also come a change in reimbursement: From $2.51 to $2.60, she said, and the district may also be eligible for an additional six cents of reimbursement if its program is certified.

When asked what would happen is the district does not abide by the new USDA guidelines, Geist replied that it would lose its reimbursement, and its school lunch programs would come under federal review.

In other business:
• Board member Penny Pifer said the Athletic Committee would discuss a proposal from Little League about using the fields for practice in April and May, as well as the VFW Teener League’s proposal about a field rental extension.

• During public comment, Janice Means criticized the board for its policies pertaining to cyber-students taking part in school programs, and also for its alleged ignoring of a speaker during the May 9 meeting.
She suggested that the board hold a 30-minute question-and-answer session after each meeting to address concerns from the public.