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Monfredo: Across The Nation New Regulations Will Affect School Lunches

Saturday, January 26, 2019


Across the nation school lunches may be affected by the new Department of Agriculture regulations. Just recently Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue announced new regulations for school lunches.  School meals will no longer have to meet some requirements advocated by former first lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity.

The nutrition regulations in the past were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and were advocated by Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move campaign.” Schools were required to reduce the amount of calories, fat, and sodium in their cafeterias and increase offerings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and nonfat milk to over 32 million students who receive federally subsidized meals.  The reason for the new change, according to Secretary Perdue, was because of the feedback from students, schools and food service experts for the claim was that the students were not eating whole grains and other healthy food choices. They were tossing in the trash.

Since the announcement, several editorials have voiced concerns about this decision and disagreed with the move.  The Washington Post in an editorial stated that the Trump Administrating is making school lunches less healthy.  It went on to say that a 2016 study found no association between food type and plate waste.  Early research indicates that school lunch changes alter students’ eating habits over time. The editorial stated that some experts say instead of allowing higher –fat flavored milks to be served, it would be better not to serve sugar-packed chocolate milk at all.   Other studies show that students were eating more vegetables and taking in less saturated fat at school under the Obama era.

The main argument in the editorial was that “the government should not be shoveling junk onto poor children’s plates, aiding the all too common slide into obesity and chronic disease among the most vulnerable Americans.”

The Worcester Public Schools, as we know, has worked hard in making school lunches as appetizing and nutritious as possible for the students. The question is will it continue? Thus, I reached out to Worcester Public School director of school nutrition Donna Lombardi for her take on the new law.   She has received many awards from the state for her work in providing healthy food for the students so I do value her knowledge on this subject.   Her quick response was that she did not see this change as a major problem at least for Worcester.   Districts including Worcester, according to Mrs. Lombardi, can stay with the existing guidelines or exercise all or some of the flexibilities in the new law.  As for the salt content she did not see this as a problem, for Worcester has reached its reduction target and the new range suggested is a flexible one.

As Mrs. Lombardi stated, “Culinary excellence, independent from food manufacturers and participation in local economic growth initiatives have been equally important for the Worcester Public Schools during the progressive implementation of “The Healthy –Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010…  Community eligibility, where all students are able to participate in the school breakfast and lunch programs at no cost along with along with an entire division dedicated to recipe development, implantation, and training has enabled the Worcester Public Schools to serve menu items that meet the healthy requirements while at the same time increasing access and participation.”

Mrs. Lombardi went on to say that “It is the successes and future successes associated with the combination of the HHFKA and culinary methods incorporating fresh, local and seasonal ingredients that we are not able to justify the reduction of whole grains rich foods.”  She also feels that our system consist of minimally processed locally grown and whole foods prepared by a team of Chefs, Cooks and Bakers for the Worcester Public Schools who participate in various culinary training programs. However, she did feel that it would be a challenge to those districts that do not have the ability to prepare foods from scratch.

She did agree with the finds on dairy consumption for the district has seen a decreased since the skim milk requirement was implemented so now the district will have an option to serve 1% flavored milk instead of only fat-free flavored milk.   As for whole grains …” when prepared properly they are delicious, so we don’t intend on reversing the culinary progress made.”  Those past improvements in the schools lunches has resulted in students throwing away less food, a function of meal improvements associated with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and Worcester’s culinary initiatives.

The final question to Mrs. Lombardi… do you feel that this new law will not have a major impact on the WPS lunches due to the fact that we prepare our lunches from scratch, thus keeping up with high nutrition?  Her answer… it will absolutely not have an impact for our school district!

This is great for Worcester but I do wonder about other districts across the nation for there may be a decrease in nutritional value and an uptick in obesity if they don’t do what they are doing in the Worcester Public Schools.  The bottom line is that every district needs to be sure that good nutrition is paramount in their school system. Thanks to the watchful eyes of Director Lombardi it is in the Worcester Public Schools.


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