School districts adjusting to new federal food guidelines
Uncle Sam's call to “eat more vegetables” apparently fell on deaf ears since the current school year began in Pine-Richland School District.
Sodexo, the district's food service, is selling about 11 percent fewer than expected, reimbursable lunches after implementing the 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 Pine-Richland 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 forth nutrient guidelines for kindergarteners through high school seniors. It reduces, for example, allowable portions of pizza and meats.
The act also requires students to select at least one half-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.
But not all.
In Penn Hills, district officials are expecting the food-service program this year to post a $75,000 surplus thanks to labor-cost savings and food sales over and above last year's projections, according to information presented to the district's finance committee last month by business director Richard Liberto.
“A la carte sales are up $100 a day over the budgeted numbers, and breakfast sales are up $120 a day over the projections,” Liberto told the committee.
Michelle Marker, director of programs for The Nutrition Group, which handles food service for Penn Hills as well as Shaler, Sto-Rox, Albert Gallatin, West Mifflin, McKeesport, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward and other local districts, said education has been a key component in their success.
“With the guidelines, we found that we had to do a little more educating,” Marker said.
“We went into schools and explained why students had to take a fruit and a vegetable. And kids — especially older kids — don't like to be told what to do. It was a very different thing for all of us.”
Marker said Nutrition Group officials created posters and literature that were placed alongside lunch lines to help inform students about the changes and the reasons behind them.
Food service directors also solicited input from all levels in their school districts.
“Our directors met with groups of about a dozen students to talk with them about what kids are saying, what they like and what they don't,” Marker said. “Directors also spoke with the lunch ladies and cafeteria monitors.”
Marker said a special “Wellness Wednesday” promotion in elementary schools also has been a great help.
“Parents, PTO members or teachers man a colorful table in the cafeteria, and we'd offer different types of fruits and vegetables,” she said.
As an example, Marker said one day “Wellness Wednesday” tables were handing out sweet-potato-casserole samples.
“If you just put that on the menu, kids would say, ‘Oh, I don't want that.' But we introduced it at the (Wellness) table, and it was a hit … we gave the kids a sticker when they tried something new, and it really caught on and worked well.”
In addition, Nutrition Group officials sent a regularly published newsletter home with kids, so that parents could read about changes in the food-service program.
Not all school districts' food service is thriving under the new regulations, however.
Last year, Sodexo guaranteed to return $38,497 to Pine-Richland School District. Sodexo now expects to lose nearly $20,000 during the current school year, and plans to ultimately pay Pine-Richland School 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 (United States 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.
Marker said she viewed the situation as a welcome challenge.
“Anytime you have a change, obviously it's going to be different, especially to students,” she said. “As we moved forward and food-service directors got a grip on what their students were looking for, we've adjusted things to suit the situation.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Photo gallery: North Wheeler, Blackadore streets hold annual block party
- Special Olympics event set to take place at football field
- Linton principal’s firing upheld by education secretary
- Photo gallery: 2014 Penn Hills Arts Festival
- Allegheny River Blvd. work set to begin in Penn Hills