The Coupeville School District’s food service program has met rigorous new nutritional guidelines set forth by the federal government and qualifies for a small reimbursement for each meal served.
Part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required schools to meet tougher nutrition standards for the 2012-2013 school year. Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program have had to offer more healthy options to help mitigate the trend toward childhood obesity.
It can be a balancing act.
“What kids like is what they’re used to, so we serve food kids like,” said Coupeville School District food service director Jeannett Wendell, as she busily prepared pizzas in the Coupeville middle and high school kitchen recently.
“This is a whole-grain crust with flaxseed,” she continued. “Is it like pizza from a place in town? No, but they seem to like it.”
The school district budgets about $314,000 per school year for food service, which is contracted to InterPacific Management/Chartwells. The school had to submit a great deal of paperwork in order to be approved for a six-cent reimbursement for each meal served.
“In order to get the reimbursement, we must be following the program,” Wendell said. “We had to submit our menu and a worksheet that included what we were serving, how much we were serving and the nutritional analysis every day for a week.”
“It was a few more hoops than it was before, but one thing I know is that there are always hoops. That’s just a fact of life,” said Janet Wodjenski, administrative assistant with the Coupeville School District.
The new guidelines call for an increase in fruits and vegetables. The schools must offer a larger variety of nutrient-dense vegetables, including dark green, orange, starchy vegetables and legumes/beans. Students are required to take 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable with their meal for it to be considered a full meal.
The district must also offer specific amounts of whole grains and proteins, which is why pizza crusts and pasta are all whole grain. Sodium has already been reduced as part of the program, but those levels will have to be significantly reduced again by 2015.
There are five components to a meal: Grain, milk, meat/protein, fruit and vegetable. In order to qualify for the reimbursement, a student must have three of those components, one of which must be a fruit or vegetable.
“When they walk away with a plate of mashed potatoes, they’d better have a fruit and a vegetable too,” Wendell laughed.
Currently the district serves about 225 meals per day at the middle/high school and the same at Coupeville Elementary School. In a typical five-day school week, that’s about 2,250 meals. If the district is reimbursed for each meal, it will get about $135 a week back. That may not seem like much, but every little bit helps, said Wendell.
“It will help with the cost of fruits and vegetables,” she said. “It costs more to offer them. If you want to have a variety, you have to pay for it.”
Changing children’s eating habits can also be difficult. Wendell said they are doing a lot more education in elementary school and getting children to try things while they’re younger to help broaden their taste horizons. Offering healthier meals is especially beneficial for those children who may not eat much otherwise.
“For some kids, this is their only meal all day,” Wendell said. “Some of them have maybe never seen a vegetable.”
The number of children in the Coupeville School District who qualify for free or reduced lunches has been on the rise.
Wodjenski said it’s unknown whether the need is growing or whether newer, more relaxed criteria from the state means more students are eligible for the benefit. Knowing the meal served at school is healthier than ever is good news for those local families who are struggling to put food on the table.
“I think it’s a great service for families,” Wodjenski said. “Between our local food banks and schools offering free or reduced lunches, I know that helps a lot of our families.”