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Local districts use summer to revamp lunch menus

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Come September, there will be fewer french fries and more broccoli and beans on school lunch menus.

All north country public school districts receive federal reimbursement for free and reduced price lunches through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch program. To keep the money coming, however, cafeteria managers now will be required to restrict portion sizes and calories based on grade level, and 51 percent of all grains must be whole grains, said Craig P. Orvis, Watertown City School District food service director.

If a district complies by October, it will receive an additional six cents per school lunch from USDA.

Watertown recently hosted a meeting so regional food service managers could talk to state Education Department officials to better understand what they are expected to do come fall.

“For some of the new staff, the new directors, it is definitely a challenge,” Mr. Orvis said. “A lot of it was about a new way of looking at menuing. We have to look at the serving size. Now with the minimum and maximum calorie numbers, we have to be more careful.”

That means a 10th-grader may get three more chicken nuggets than a second-grader.

Mr. Orvis does not plan to change entrees this year but will serve up a bevy of different sides — including three-bean salad and broccoli salad — to meet the new nutritional standards set by USDA.

“I anticipate children looking at things differently in September,” he said. “Hopefully, when they taste it, they’ll come home and ask their mom for fresh broccoli.”

Indian River Central School District will make changes to introduce more vegetables.

“I don’t have anything specifically that’s really totally different,” district cafeteria manager Ann S. Easter said. “Like for french fries, we may offer sweet potato fries. We only offered them once this year.”

With the additions come subtractions, however.

“I might not be able to offer pizza every day anymore,” Ms. Easter said.

She will use the year to prepare for upcoming USDA sodium restrictions.

“Grilled cheese and soup is kind of a tradition in cafeterias,” she said. “These combinations will have to be looked at very carefully, because both the cheese and the soup are high in sodium.”

Additionally, the submarine sandwich bar might not be available to high school students every day.

Mr. Orvis said no menu item will be removed in Watertown either, but some will be seen less frequently.

“The kindergarten through fifth-grade menu has a maximum of nine grains a week and a minimum of eight,” he said. “One day a week, we won’t offer peanut butter and jelly.”

He said all of the elementary schools and H.T. Wiley Intermediate previously offered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day as an entree alternative.

Additionally, breaded chicken sandwiches might have to be reduced in upcoming years. This year, if the breading pushes a district under 51 percent for whole grains, it can keep it. Next year, USDA regulations will not be as relaxed, however.

The restrictions have been a challenge for all cafeteria managers, but any menu changes will be made with the children’s palates in mind, Mr. Orvis said.

“Sometimes with children, getting them to try it is the most important part,” he said. “A lot of the children will come to us and say what’s good and what’s not. We like to get their feedback as much as possible.”

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