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Healthy meals no hot sale at Pine-Richland

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Uncle Sam's call to “eat more vegetables” apparently fell on deaf ears since the current school year began in the Pine-Richland School District.

Sodexo, the district's food service, is selling about 11 percent fewer reimbursable lunches than expected after implementing changes that were part of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

“The changes were fairly drastic for the kids,” said Cherry Cerminara, general manager of Sodexo food services for the school district.

“Change takes time, and there were several changes that went into effect, all at once,” Cerminara said.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act sets nutrient guidelines for kindergartners through high school seniors. It reduces, for example, allowable portions of pizza and meats. The act also requires students to select at least 12 cup of a fruit or vegetable with each meal.

“Basically, many districts have lost meal counts over this,” Cerminara told the Pine-Richland School Board at the board's April 22 meeting.

The school board unanimously voted at the meeting to approve a new contract with Sodexo that guarantees to return $2,256 to Pine-Richland School District for the next school year. The new contract also maintains current prices for breakfast and lunch at all schools in the district.

Last year, Sodexo guaranteed to return $38,497 to school district. Sodexo now expects to lose nearly $20,000 during the current school year and plans to ultimately pay the district more than $58,000 to meet its contract obligations.

“Sodexo has been working with school administration, students and parents to ensure everyone has a full understanding of the new USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) school meal regulations,” Cerminara said. “As children become accustomed to the change, the expectation is for meals to return to previously seen participation levels.”

Cerminara said Sodexo is working with food companies and recipe developers to ensure that all U.S. schools offer meals with student appeal that also satisfy the federal government's nutritional rules.

“Sodexo is working with reputable groups like the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs — which leads the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement — to help students make healthier choices,” Sodexo spokesman Greg Yost said.

“The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement is focused on making healthy choices the easier choice for students, and using concepts of behavioral economics to get students to not only take the required food, but also consume these foods as well.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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