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School cafeterias rise to meet new federal nutrition standards
by Liz Marino
August 08, 2012 03:50 PM | 2335 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Bright Star Elementary cafeteria employees Lelia Ruggiero, Mina Baggett and Debbie Payne show off some of the healthier lunch options the children will have this coming school year.
From left, Bright Star Elementary cafeteria employees Lelia Ruggiero, Mina Baggett and Debbie Payne show off some of the healthier lunch options the children will have this coming school year.
New federal nutrition mandates are generating positive steps in Douglas County school cafeterias to help ward off childhood obesity and prevent the rising onset of Type II diabetes in school-aged children.

According to Douglas County School Nutrition Coordinator Linda Ankner, the new program, which went into effect July 1, ensures that meals are healthy and well-balanced and provide the nutrition they need to succeed at school.

While once diagnosed primarily in 40-plus aged adults, now an increasing number of school-aged children are being diagnosed with Type II diabetes, Ankner said.

Part of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the program meets all requirements for the five food groups at lunch, Ankner said. A child must select at least three of five food groups, one of which has to be a fruit or vegetable.

Today’s school lunch now has a calorie maximum, with larger servings of vegetables and fruits, a wider variety of vegetables, including dark green and red or orange vegetables and legumes.

“We are incorporating some new fruits and vegetables that children might not be exposed to at home,” she said. “By offering more leafy greens and such things as squash and zucchini dippers with ranch dressing, and more seasonal fruits, such as nectarines, plums and cantaloupe — more Georgia-grown produce. We are getting away from just apples and oranges every day.”

Federal requirements also incorporate fat-free or 1 percent milk. Flavored milk must be fat-free, Ankner said.

The new requirements also require more whole grains will be offered.

She explained that as of July 1, half of grains served in school lunches will be whole grain-rich. Next year, grains will be 100 percent whole grain-rich.

Reducing sodium in school lunches is also targeted by the federal nutrition requirements. Sodium must be reduced by half over the next 20 years.

Ways the school system will achieve these requirements include moving away from processed foods and moving toward more “from scratch” cooking, she said.

Ankner studied nutrition at Louisiana State University in her native state where she received both her bachelor and master’s degrees. She joined the Douglas County School System in 2009 and is responsible for planning and analyzing menus and recipes to follow guidelines and to provide nutrition education.

“We encourage cafeteria staff to help teach and promote nutrition,” she said. “At Lithia Springs Elementary School last year, students came in and learned to convert recipes. Some cafeteria managers use our ‘Nutrition Expedition’ curriculum in the after-school programs at their schools.”

Teachers are encouraged to use the cafeteria as a learning lab, and Ankner often speaks about nutrition to classes and outside groups.
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