Cafeteria plates in Jessamine County schools are a little more full after the removal of some federal guidelines that sent many students home hungry.
Regulations from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act ironically were leaving bellies empty in lunch rooms thanks to caps on the amount of protein and grains that could be served to a student in a given week, said Karen Barden, Jessamine County’s food-service director.
“We had new guidance from the USDA for our school meals under the new school initiative,” she said. “There were restrictions on the weekly maximums for grains and protein, which was a huge challenge for most of the food directors who were trying to do the menu planning, because even the manufacturers did not have small portions for proteins.”
And it was just as much of a problem for students who were scraping their plates without a chance of getting any more food. Barden said her department had seen the daily average of students served lunch drop from its typical level of between 5,600 and 5,700 — and they were hearing why.
“We had a loss of participation overall of about 300 per day, mainly in our high schools,” she said. “... We had letters from students — they wrote many letters. We had complaints from parents that their children were not getting enough to eat; they didn’t feel satisfied when they came home, so they were having to send additional food with the children or they were just taking their lunches.”
Barden said nationwide complaints caused a change in the federal guidelines that she was notified of in early December.
“They did stop the restrictions on the maximums, so now there is no maximum,” she said. “The calorie limitations are still there — they didn’t change the calories, so it still protects the nutritional integrity of the meal, but the grains and the protein, we’re allowed to give whatever portion that we feel the children need.”
Barden and superintendent Lu Young told a forum of students about the change before winter break, hoping they would spread the word to parents. The district is also planning a food fair at the Coolidge building during the school day Jan. 11, when students will have a chance to give their input on what healthy options should make the cafeteria menus.
“I’m hoping that will really help, because the kids can come in there and we’re going to have all the new healthier-option foods that the manufacturers have come up with, and we’re going to let them taste-test and do surveys, and that will help us know what they prefer to have on the menu,” Barden said.