School Lunch Changing to meet Government Requirements

(KATV) Little Rock - When students returned to the Pulaski County Special School District (PCSSD) this year, they had some lunch menu changes. The district's nutrition department made the adjustments ahead of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that goes into effect next year for all school.

It's not the menu you remember from your days in the lunch lines. The act was signed into law by President Obama, with the goal to lower childhood obesity. This is the firsttime in over four decades that the USDA has regulated school's food.

School lunches look a little different this year. There are now new regulations on the food made available to students. "We feed about 12,000 kids a day and we have 37 schools." Clint Walker is the nutritionist for PCSSD. He says now it's about fruits and vegetables. The keyword is fresh.

Walker adds, "We're getting away from the processed foods like chicken tenders and going more for the scratch cooking like the meatloaf, Salisbury steak and taco soup." Which translates to cooks starting earlier at about 5:30 a.m. and it now takes about a week for Walker to put the lunch menu together. Once he inputs all the food, the computer program will total the calories, carb counts, how many grains, fruits and vegetables are in the daily and weekly menu.

"Our average calories per week is 619 calories for elementary. So we're meeting that and that's what we look for. Are we meeting the required calories? Yes," Walker adds.

Unlike some schools, students at PCSSD still get condiments, but only if they're listed on the menu because the calories and sodium has to be figured in. Walker explains, "It is a healthier option for kids. I think if you limit the calories, limit the fat, it does help the kids out. Plus it may help the kids make better decisions at home, my kids have."

In the beginning staff noticed an increase in wasted food, but Walker says after kids actually tried the food they enjoyed it and there's less waste every day.

Starting this month, as long as they stay within the target requirements, the district gets a six cent reimbursement per meal from the state.

Next, the district will change the breakfast menu. In October they switched to 51-percent grain biscuit. They'll be done with the transition by January. Next year they'll also switch from French fries to sweet potato fries that will not be deep fried.