New school meal guidelines from the federal government have forced costs to go up for Tahlequah schools, while also increasing food waste and decreasing the number of students who eat from the salad bar.
Tahlequah Public Schools Board of Education Vice President Luke Foster asked about the changes this week during a monthly board meeting.
TPS Child Nutrition Program Director Rhonnie Kerns said changes to whole-grain and fruit-and-vegetable requirements will account for the biggest cost increase.
“We were already doing a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables; however, we were doing whole grain at 33 percent, and whole grain is now required at 51 percent, and it’s required on all grain products,” said Kerns. “So, if you serve a waffle at breakfast time, it has to be 51 percent whole grain, and we are going to pay at least a third to a half more for that case than we would for one that’s not so much whole grain. That’s where we’re looking at being the most affected – in the whole-grain world.”
Foster asked whether the district has seen an increase in the amount of food students throw away because of the guidelines.
“Apparently lots more things are being thrown out because you’re required to put it on their plate; now they don’t have the option,” said Foster.
Kerns said there hasn’t been a major change at the elementary level, but waste has increased at the middle- and high-school sites.
“They are required to take a fruit or a vegetable, and if they didn’t want that fruit or vegetable, we’re going to see an increase in waste as a result of that,” said Kerns.
Fewer students are also participating in a salad bar offering.
“The salad bar has changed dramatically because they put maximums on how many grains you can give them in a week, how much meat you can give them in a week, so things like tuna salad and chicken salad disappear, and things like croutons and nuts and sunflower seeds disappear,” said Kerns. “They’re not seeing nearly as much variety on the salad bar now, so [students] are not participating in that as heavily.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the new standards “align school meals with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools.”
They are, according to the USDA, the first major changes in school meals in 15 years.
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