As Branford students head this week (be sure to ) they’ll see more than just new books and teachers in their classrooms. For the first time, they’ll be seeing healthier hot lunches.
Under rules that take affect this year in federally-subsidized public school lunch programs, the federal government is for the first time imposing calorie and sodium limits on school lunch offerings and requiring schools to offer students more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is the first time in 15 years that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made changes in public school lunch programs. The calorie and sodium limits imposed under the new guidelines are based on a student’s age.
The federal changes are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and are part of an overall effort to make federally subsidized school hot lunches healthier for kids and help reduce a growing obesity problem in the country.
Here in Branford, Rob Weber, Director of BPS Dining Services, Chartwells Dining Services said the vegetable serving size is going from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. The types of vegetables served will also change with the introduction of roasted acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash and collard greens, said Weber at the Branford Board of Education meeting earlier this month.
"We're really exposing them to different vegetables and hopefully we can spice it up they way they like it and make it fun," he said.
In addition to offering more vegetables, Branford Schools will also be saving about $6,000 said Weber, through participation in a U.S. Department of Agriculture, DOD grant, which provides more access to local produce at a reduced cost. Other schools that Chartwells serves, said Weber, have used this grant to procure more local vegetables to much success – this will be Branford's first year as a recipient of the grant.
“I’d rather give them fresh fruit and vegetables rather than something out of a can," said Weber who is excited to be upping the vegetable offerings for students."
While Branford's focus on getting more local vegetables and healthy foods into kids is aggressive this year, it's . Last year Weber said Chartwells, in the northeast region, purchased about 27.9 percent of its produce locally. Additionally, he told the Branford BOE, that the food service has been ahead of game when it comes to offering whole grains and whole wheat – pizza dough will again be the white wheat offering it has been in the past.
"The companies that we work with," said Weber of his food providers, "want to be in this business." Health-conscience, he said, "is where the market is going and they need to step up and they have."
Branford will also have a brand new dietician, Cora Ragaini, who started on August 20. She will train staff, teach students about healthy eating, and will also be a resource for parents of student's with allergies, said Weber. Ragaini will also be involved in menu planning, he detailed.
Branford students with allergies will also have a new line of defense when it comes to meal time; when a student with a documented allergy scans his or her meal card, a notice will be generated to the cashier warning him or her about the risk for the student. If you have a student with a life-threatening allergy, Branford Public Schools are asking you to submit paperwork. Here's how to do it (or see attached).
See Branford elementary Schools and lunch menus attached.
Eileen McNamara contributed reporting to this story.