An increased emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables is a highlight of the improved lunch program, which was designed to comply with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama, sets federal guidelines for school wellness policies. As part of this legislation, schools will be monitored by the USDA to ensure compliance with nutritional standards.
What does this mean for the students of Menifee? More apples, oranges, juices, salads and other fruit and vegetable items on school lunch trays.
According to David Warren, food services supervisor for the district, every child who purchases lunch at school must take one of the fruit or vegetable choices offered each day. No longer is it simply an option. The existing fruit and vegetable bar, offered separately from the entree, will be scaled back in order to provide these items as part of the required meal.
Additional USDA guidelines require more whole grain items be included in the menu but that the total number of bread choices per week be reduced by one. At the middle schools, meat and cheese items will be replaced by salad choices and additional fruits. Requirements regarding the content of sodium and fat in meals have also been strengthened.
"These changes are being made in the best interests of the students," Warren said. "We have to continue to do our best to give the healthiest meals to the students."
Warren said approximately 40 percent of the district's 8,800 students buy their lunch at school each day. Providing mandatory fruit and vegetable choices for the students will create an additional cost for which the district must make adjustments, he said.
"We have to incur the costs of bringing in extra fruits and vegetables," Warren said. "Last year, not all students would take them. Now they must take them, whether they want it or not. We'll have to make an adjustment in our spending."
Warren said he couldn't estimate the extra cost to the district, but he did provide one example.
"Let's take apples," he said. "An apple costs 19 cents. If you multiply that by 500 students, that's $95 a day just for the extra apples. You multiply that by the number of schools and the number of school days and it adds up."
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids act provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches.