Mountain View Voice

News - February 3, 2012

New rules for healthier school lunches

by Nick Veronin

A week after the First Lady and the nation's agriculture secretary unveiled new federal standards for school meals, local education officials are still figuring out exactly what the new nutrition rules will mean for Mountain View schools.

While it is still unclear what it will take to comply with the new rules in terms of money and training, superintendents at both the Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View-Los Altos school districts agreed that it was good to be located in a health conscious part of a health conscious state.

In many ways, the Mountain View Whisman School District is "ahead of the curve," said Superintendent Craig Goldman. "We view federal guidelines as a floor, not a ceiling," Goldman said. "We have ongoing discussions about how to improve the quality, nutrition and appeal of the food we serve to children."

A significant component of the Michelle Obama-endorsed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines call for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a reduction of processed, salty and fatty meals, and limiting the number of calories served to children based upon age.

"California is way ahead of the federal curve," said Joe White, superintendent of business services at the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District. According to White, some of the new requirements coming down the pike have already been implemented in his district. For example, he said, MVLA already serves fruit on a daily basis, as well as fat free and reduced fat milk.

Schools will get an increase in federal funding for implementing the rules of the act — 6 cents for every meal served.

The new regulations mark the first significant raising of public school food standards in more than 15 years.

In a press release issued by the USDA, the First Lady said the legislation was meant to ensure that kids eat as well at school as they do at home.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet," Obama said. "When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won't be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home."

Carol Chase, nutrition education administrator for the California Department of Education, said the new rules will begin going into effect on July 1. According to her, the USDA wants schools to work on getting lunches compliant first; districts won't be responsible for making sure breakfast programs are in line with the new standards until July 1, 2013.

It's a good thing that California schools have more time to revamp their breakfast programs, according to Chase. Breakfast is a discretionary program and since Congress has yet to approve any increase in breakfast reimbursements to help pay for the changes, some feared that schools would simply eliminate their morning offerings, leaving many low-income California children to go hungry.

While Mountain View may be ahead of the national curve, Chase said the new rules will surely prove challenging to many schools California. "We are concerned about the majority of our districts," she said.

With the emphasis on serving more fresh foods, new preparation and food handling protocols will need to be put in place. "When you're handling fresh fruits and vegetables, it takes additional steps to make sure the food is provided in a safe manner," she said.

Despite her concerns, Chase said that the new rules represent a "net good."

"Our kids spend the majority of their days in school," she observed, echoing Obama. "We want to make sure the meals they are being provided are meeting nutritional requirements."

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