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Pleasing picky palates has never been an easy job for cafeteria managers, but some Iroquois Central School Board members are debating whether the federal government’s new healthy school food guidelines are a well-balanced plan or a tough-to-swallow crash course in nutrition.
Business Administrator Joanne George said at a recent board meeting that the school was receiving some “push-back” from students as the new guidelines roll out, particularly when they’re paying more for meals that look smaller, like a French toast breakfast that included four sticks last year but now has only two for elementary students and three for older students.
The district sent a letter to parents explaining that its food program would comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which requires age-appropriate calorie limits, a wider variety of vegetables, more whole grains, less sodium and fat-free or low fat milk.
Not everyone is satisfied.
“I’m hearing kids are hungry,” said board member Charles Specht. “And the complaints aren’t only on portion size, but of the waste. This isn’t the way to do it. Guidelines? Yes. Mandates? No. Educate the kids so they can make the choices themselves. It will benefit them more in the future.”
Joanna Robertson, food service director, said portion size can be deceiving. Though last year’s 8- and 12-inch subs have shrunk by more than half, the amount of protein in them is up by 0.2 ounces.
Statistics at Iroquois tell a story that is playing out in cafeterias across the country. In September, lunch orders were down 20 percent, or about 1,800 meals, from the previous year, with the biggest drop at the middle school.
David Cervi, president of Personal Touch, the district’s food contractor, said that he is fully behind the new guidelines but that the speed with which the firm has had to implement them has been difficult. Red, yellow and dark green vegetables and legumes are now mandatory in the course of a week, edging out more popular choices such as corn and potatoes.
Robertson told the board that things weren’t bleak on all fronts. She said youngsters on the elementary level recently gobbled up a new offering in surprising amounts: red beets.
“It will take time,” she said.