JENISON, Mich. (WOOD) — Healthier nutrition guidelines put into place in 2012 have been a lightning rod for controversy since they began. Now, with the rules set to become even more strict, some are calling for a delay in implementation until districts to catch up.
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program in which the government reimburses schools for meals. If a student qualifies for a free meal, the district is reimbursed $2.93. For a reduced meal, it gets $2.53.
Guidelines implemented in only the last couple of years call for more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains — items that are usually more expensive. The food services director for Hudsonville and Jenison schools said districts get an additional $.06 reimbursement since those new rules went into effect.
The food requirements are set to become even more strict this summer. Under them, for example, all grains will have to be whole-grain rich. Currently, only 50% of grains have to be whole-grain rich.
“Taking it slowly but surely would get us there,” said Jenison/Hudsonville food service director Stacey Wykoski. “I completely agree with where USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) wants to go with it, just [we] would like a little more flexibility in how we get there and how long it will take us to get there.”
Wykoski is a member of the School Nutrition Association, a group of more than 55,000 school nutrition professionals. She said she’s in favor of making lunches healthier, but she said implementing the changes so quickly have created more waste. While kids have to take fruits and vegetables as a part of their meal, they don’t have to eat them.
“I think as much as they want us to have kids try different things, I think forcing at this limited amount of time is a little harder because we’re having to throw away more,” said Wykoski.
Even those in support of the stricter guidelines acknowledge waste is a concern.
“Waste is an issue, but we think that comes over time. I think it’s better now than it was at the beginning of the year. We have to come up with creative ways to get kids to take it and eat it,” said Mindy Grant, the director of food services for Lowell Public Schools.
Grant said her district has been making healthy improvements incrementally over the past decade. She said she doesn’t think delaying healthier food is the solution. Rather, it’s working with kids to get them to understand what they should eat.
“I do understand it’s not a popular [position.] When I go to meetings with other food services directors, sometimes I have to bite my tongue a little bit because I truly feel these changes are for the kids,” said Grant.
Guidelines are set to become stricter July 1.