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Santa Fe Public School District is concerned that the new proposed US Department of Agriculture regulations designed to make school lunch healthier aren't offering enough green to go with the increased greens.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law last December requires that changes be implemented to school lunches; the USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations until April 11. Public schools getting federal reimbursement for school meals will be required to double the amount of vegetables served at lunch time, have whole grains make up at least half of grains served, and decrease sodium, starchy vegetables and trans fats. In exchange, the schools will get a reimbursement of $2.78 per meal instead of $2.72.
"The new nutritional requirements and meal patterns are based on the Institute of Medicine's recommendation, and they're talking about having us double the amount of fruits and vegetables—but they're only giving us six cents to do that with [per meal]," Santa Fe Public Schools Food Services Director Judi Jacquez says. "There's no way you can do an extra cup to cup and a half of vegetables for six cents."
Since SFPS became involved with the Farm to Schools program eight years ago, they've already made a shift toward fresh greens and fruits, though kids have yet to fully adapt to the changes, Jacquez says.
"I was just serving today at Capital High and we were serving a beautiful vegetable mix that had yellow carrots, orange carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas," Jacquez says. "I would say that of the kids that I was asking 'Do you want vegetables?' probably half of them didn't take the vegetables...but I still feel like having them there every day on the line and trying to make them look as appealing as possible, and they see the kid ahead of them take it, hopefully some day they're going to say 'Yeah give me a little.' That's the only way we're going to get kids to eat vegetables is if they start seeing it as part of a normal diet."
President Obama had originally called for a higher reimbursement to schools, adding 18 cents instead of six to what they were getting per meal. Jacquez says before trying to cut something else in the SFPS budget to allow for the extra veggies, she's waiting to see if the finalized regulations will provide for a more generous reimbursement.
"The USDA is in the comments phase now," Jacquez says. "I'm sure they're getting a lot of people saying, 'Wait a minute, how are we going to do this?'"