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New Richmond schools focus on healthy lunches

School lunches in New Richmond are now much healthier than they were a decade ago. Pictured above, first-grader Lydia Melby helps herself to some pineapple.

President Barack Obama thinks school lunches need to be healthier - and he's not alone.

According to government numbers, 32 percent of the 32 million kids who eat lunch at school are overweight or obese. That statistic has many local school districts, including New Richmond, reworking school lunches.

The proposed changes to school meal standards require more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and a switch to fat-free and low-fat (1 percent) milk.

The proposals are based on recommendation released in October 2009 by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (IOM) and presented in their report, "School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children." Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories and trans fats in meals.

Karen Brummer, supervisor of food services for the district, said the district has implemented many things to help prepare for the new requirements, which are expected to be published and enforced in the coming months.

Among those changes are:

* Increasing fruit portions at breakfast.

* Offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables during lunch.

* Cutting down on sugars as much as possible (using fresh fruit whenever possible, instead of canned fruit).

* Eliminating 2 percent and whole milk options.

* Switching to whole grain breads, brown rice and whole grain noodles. Currently the proposal calls for the limitation of starchy vegetables, including corn and potatoes, Brummer said; however, there's another proposal circulating that could strike that regulation from the new guidelines.

"They're trying to deal with schools that serve French fries every day," she said. "We don't do that. We don't even have a deep fat fryer in the district."

The district's investment in updated equipment has allowed the food service staff to make some positive changes, she said.

"We now have more refrigerated serving units, which allow us to serve a wider variety of fruits and veggies," she said.

The district also participates in the University of Wisconsin Dietetic Intern Program, which allows the district to test new recipes and offer them to students - including a black bean salsa that's offered at all the schools.

The proposed nutritional guidelines won't mean students will be forced to eat healthier, Brummer said.

"There's not a lot of pressure on them," she said. "It's just having it available and hoping that they try it."

Brummer said the New Richmond School District, along with several others in the area, jumped in to implement regulations when they were proposed last winter.

"Schools need to set the example," she said. "We want to be models of health and intuitive eating. We feel we've taken some big steps toward fulfilling these new requirements."


Among the requirements for school meals outlined in the proposed rule:

• Decrease the amount of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and green peas, to one cup a week.

• Reduce sodium in meals over the next 10 years. A high school lunch now has about 1,600 milligrams of sodium. Through incremental changes, that amount should be lowered over the next decade to 740 milligrams or less of sodium for grades through 9 through 12; 710 milligrams or less for grades 6 through 8; 640 milligrams or less for kindergarten through fifth grades.

• Establish calorie maximums and minimums for the first time. For lunch: 550 to 650 calories for kindergarten through fifth grade; 600 to 700 for grades 6 through 8; 750 to 850 for grades 9 through 12.

• Serve only unflavored 1 percent milk or fat-free flavored or unflavored milk. Currently, schools can serve milk of any fat content.

• Increase the fruits and vegetables kids are offered. The new rule requires that a serving of fruit be offered daily at breakfast and lunch and that two servings of vegetables be offered daily at lunch.

Over the course of a week, there must be a serving of each of the following: green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, summer squash), beans, starchy and other vegetables. This is to make sure that children are exposed to a variety of vegetables.

• Increase whole grains substantially. Currently, there is no requirement regarding whole grains, but the proposed rules require that half of grains served must be whole grains.

• Minimize trans fat by using products where the nutrition label says zero grams of trans fat per serving.