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More healthful school lunches moving ahead

When middle schools open this fall, students will see some of their favorites from last year such as corn dogs.

But they will also see more healthful food choices, said District 833 Nutrition Services director Barb Osthus.

School lunch prices, at $1.70 for elementary schools and $2 at middle and high schools, will stay the same this year as they have for the past six years, she said.

Junior high students could get pizza once a week on the ala carte line last year, but it will be available only once a month this year. Only eighth-graders will notice the change because sixth and seventh-graders are new to middle schools.

Students are probably not aware that pizza at school is different than the ones they buy from Dominos. Dominos stores, which will supply pizza this year, must add whole grain to the crust and use reduced-fat cheese, according to Kelley Linquist, a dietitian for the South Washington County School District.

Also, Woodbury High School will be the only school in the district with deep fryers. French fries will only be sold two days a week.

With French fries and doughnuts no longer available, some students have switched to eating a pile of cookies and Gatorade, but that will no longer be available either. Secondary students are restricted to buying one cookie per day, according to Osthus.

In an effort to reduce fat and salt in student lunches below federal guidelines, Farmer's Market Fridays will be available at the four middle schools this fall.

In June, school board members ate one of the lunches that will be served and said they liked it. It included salmon filets, couscous and red grains, carrot-raisin salad, fresh fruit or juice and milk.

On the day that menu is available, the regular lunch line will offer breaded fish on a bun, potato rounds, salad bar, fresh fruit or juice and milk.

The Farmer's Market lunch has 956 milligrams of salt versus 1,592 on the regular lunch. It also has 19 percent fat versus 22 in a regular lunch and a dramatic reduction in saturated fat from 35 percent to 3.2 percent.

If Farmer's Market Fridays is successful, it will be expanded to high schools next year, Osthus said.

Although federal guidelines require an average of 773 calories per day in lunches, nutrition services is offering food that is fresh and fewer items are "processed," Linquist said.

"Students will still have choices but they will be healthier," Osthus said. "We want to ease in more healthful food.

High school students, who will have nine regular lunch choices each day, will see nutrition information posted at ala carte lines this fall including the number of calories and grams of fat in each item.

Information will be color-coded with green as healthful, yellow as less healthful and red which means: "Are you sure you want that number of calories?" Osthus said.

The district receives vegetables from the Federal Department of Agriculture. When frozen ones are available, nutrition services takes as many as possible. The agency has also ordered that less salt be added to canned vegetables to respond to the childhood obesity epidemic, she said.

Her department has received complaints from parents of secondary students that they are spending too much of their lunch money on the ala Carte line.

In response, some of those items are being moved to the grill line to increase the number of students taking regular lunch.

Last year, about 75 percent of elementary school students took regular lunches. That drops to about half in secondary schools but Osthus and Linquist want to increase that to 65 percent or more.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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