Officials from the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, the League of Women Voters and parents met Saturday to chew over new federal regulations regarding school meals.
Mike Boone, associate director of child nutrition services for the school district, said 71 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced meals.
The new regulations are a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which Boone called the “Michelle Obama Act.” Among the changes are caps on calorie counts, as well as free breakfast for all students.
“It’s not their fault that they’re poor. So, we take care of those kids,” Boone said. “These may be the only two meals they get a day.”
Boone said studies show kids who eat breakfast are better behaved, engage in fewer fights, arrive on time to class more often and experience fewer illnesses.
“We feed the tummies so the district can feed the brain,” Boone said.
Foods now being served in the district are lower in fat and sodium content. The vending machines offer baked chips and the schools have not used fryers since 2007.
The use of healthier food does come at a cost, as many of the items being offered are more expensive. Boone said the pizza crust previously used by the district, for example, cost $26 a case, but the whole grain crust replacing it costs $46 a case.
Tony Mendoza, compliance and production supervisor for SMCISD, outlined newer, healthier food items being offered, as well as challenges in altering the menus.
Mendoza said the calorie counts for meals offered at the schools are 500-650 per meal for kindergarten through fifth grade students. The calories are 600-700 per meal for sixth through eighth grade students and 750-850 for ninth through 12th grade students.
“It was a nightmare trying to figure out all these calories and trying to keep them within the calorie categories,” Mendoza said.
New requirements also require student meals to include more vegetables. Mendoza said there are now plenty of vegetables on the menu. Caesar, cranberry and tossed salads are offered at least three times a week, as well as mixed vegetables, peas and carrots, sliced cucumbers and celery sticks.
Parents who attended the session had an opportunity to sample some of the foods being served to students, including a fruit slush and a pizza with a whole wheat crust.
Heather Martin, a registered dietitian, said she attended the session to make sure the district is serving the required foods. Martin has an 11-year-old son attending middle school.
Martin said she decided to try the new food herself after her son came home praising it. Boone said many students in the district have already taken a liking to the new menu items.
“I’m glad (Boone) said he hasn’t had a lot of kids who refused the food,” Martin said. “That’s what I would expect from parents when I do outpatient counseling. At first parents say children won’t eat (new foods), but if you stick to it and find different ways to serve it and offer it many times, eventually they’ll accept them and prefer them.”