Schools face challenges with new USDA rules

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – New school lunch guidelines may be geared toward making sure kids are eating the right foods and districts say balancing the lunches they serve, is no easy task.

Since the start of the year, it's been a juggling act according to the district's food director Laura Farmer. Farmer says the biggest challenge is serving the right amount of grains to students. The USDA's new regulations are very specific. Food services adjusted school menu before the start of the school year to fit within the new serving sizes, nutritional values, and calorie requirements.

Farmer says so far they've gotten a handle on most of the food groups, except for grains. They're having a hard time serving the right proportions while staying within the guidelines. Changing the menus to meet the new regulations does come at a cost.

Farmer says the USDA offers incentives to school districts if they meet certain criteria. This puts on added pressure to find the right balance.

"It's difficult to get that balance in there. So we're going back and we're adding a lot of new breads this year. We've added pumpkin bread and apple sauce bread. So we're trying to come up with some different recipes," Farmer says.

Other challenges require more adjustments to the menu to fix the problems. The challenge for kids in elementary schools is that they may be getting too much food. The new guidelines have k-5 students leaving the cafeteria line with more food on their plates and principles at local schools say they're seeing a lot more food in the trash.

Farmer says it's too much for the younger ones to eat. Farmer says her department is going back to the drawing board to find a way to stay within the new limits and avoid food going to waste.

At local high schools the challenge is getting students to choose unpopular vegetables. Students are still adjusting to new items they're seeing in the cafeteria. Farmer says these students are older and they tend to have well established eating habits, so getting them to use less common food like pinto beans and turnips can be difficult.

"The vegetables, we have to serve them more often. They're not going to be very popular with high school students," said Farmer. She says they will continue to make adjustments to the menu until they can work out all of the kinks.

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