Healthier School Lunches Come to Oskaloosa Schools


Oskaloosa Community School Administration

by Amy Langdon

Oskaloosa, Iowa – School lunches are looking a little different this year. In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which put new regulations on the types of food available to students at school. Those regulations took effect with the start of this school year.

It may not be the lunch you remember from school.

“You would see pizza or chicken nuggets or chicken strips or French fries,” says Oskaloosa School’s Food Service Director Julie Miller.

But now the key word is fresh.

“We’re baking some things like glazed chicken breast and pork chops and roasts.”

Miller says the new federal guidelines on calories and sodium mean more meals have to be cooked fresh. But that’s often the change people like the best. Something local PTO President Kim Tighe agrees with.

“As a parent, I love the idea of more and more meals being homemade, instead of just processed food,” says Tighe.

But healthier, homemade food doesn’t come cheap. Miller says the meals take longer to prepare, so the district has hired two more employees to handle the additional workload.

“To wash an apple and then cut it in quarters and serve it to 900 kids is a little bit of an effort compared to what it used to be,” says Miller.

And the additional produce and whole-grain options also add to the total price. Superintendent Russ Reiter says it’s something the district is ready for.

“We’re giving a lot more choice. Because of the choice, because of the type of foods we’re trying to buy which are a little higher quality. That affects prices. So what we’re going to see here down the road is ‘How does that affect the bottom line?'” says Reiter.

Reiter says he hopes the prices students pay won’t have to increase mid-year, but they most likely *will* go up for the next school year. The district receives almost $3.00 per meal as a federal subsidy. Students pay $2.05 per meal at the elementary school and $2.15 and the middle and high schools.

“I’m guessing that it will increase just a little bit each year,” says Miller.

So higher quality food, with higher prices to follow. And Miller says the calorie limits and fresher foods are producing healthier kids.

“The kids are starting to choose those foods, over the processed foods so I think we’re heading in the right direction,” says Miller.

Lunch is only the first step in changing standards.

“Breakfast is coming next year,” says Miller.

Miller also says the new healthier lunches have brought more teachers into the cafeteria. She says more teachers are buying their lunch at school and it’s encouraging the younger students to try new things.

Concerns have been raised about certain students, like athletes, not getting enough to eat under the new rules. Miller says there’s nothing that prohibits students from bringing snacks to eat during breaks in the school day. And she says there’s nothing in the law that applies to the lunches that students bring to school. The new law only applies to food served by the school itself.



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