LEGISLATING THE LUNCH LADY: First Lady spearheading initiative on healthy eating choices

COLUMBIA CITY ­— Columbia City High School’s brightly-lit vending machines no longer dispense colas, but flavored waters and juice drinks. That was a change made by school officials to promote a healthier choice for students some five years ago. But now, healthier options are being served at lunch.Whitley County Consolidated Schools (WCCS) conformed to a healthy initiative put in place by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.Cafeteria foods are now made with less sodium and with more whole grains. The quantity of fruit and vegetable options have increased as well.The new menu and food options went into effect for the 2012-13 school year. Remember the square school pizzas? The cheesy lunch choice survived the reformed menu, but it is now made with healthier ingredients.“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Obama said. “And when we’re putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria.”Carol Heinold is the food service director for WCCS. She said, “Yes, WCCS has seen changes in USDA requirements and have responded where appropriate. We have watched what was happening over the past few years and already had many of those changes in place.”The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the government entity that oversees the nutrition standards for school meals. Heinold also knows that school lunches are, for some, the only complete nutritious meal they eat.“This is more than a job,” Heinold said. “This is a way we help take care of kids. Its important that we offer lunches that are good for them.”Across the nation, approximately 32 million children participate in a school lunch program. That makes the mission a vital one. With the 2012-13 school year, nutrition standards are:•Ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;•Substantially increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods and low-fat milk or fat-free milk varieties;•Limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and•Focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.According to the USDA, it has been more than 15 years since a change to this magnitude was put in place.The healthier school meals are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.Legislation is still being discussed regarding the items students can bring in their own packed lunches. Should that happen, school administration might be more prone to issue detention slips for false-bottom lunch boxes used to sneak in cupcakes rather than disorderly conduct. However, disruptive behavior could be blamed on the sugar. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs. To learn about the meal standards, go to www.fns.usda.gov/healthierschoolday.