Senate panel could influence a change in school lunches

Senate bill delays rollout of new school lunch laws

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - There could soon be big changes in the school lunch room.

A Senate panel voted to ease requirements for whole grains and delay a deadline to cut sodium levels in school lunches.

Schools are required to have all whole grain foods on the menu like in pasta or whole wheat bread. The proposal will allow schools a few more choices.

The USDA and the School Nutrition Association think this is a reasonable change.

Registered Dietitian Katie Urhahn with Saint Francis Medical Center said slowly easing kids into whole grain can be helpful.

Children should meet a standard of 25 grams of fiber a day, according to Urhahn.

She said it is important to get children to eat fiber, but that it can be hard to make it appealing to kids.

She has recommendations to get kids used to eating fiber at a healthy standard.

"Slowly increasing [whole grain] to get their taste buds associated with it," Urhahn said. "So, sometimes I mix maybe a quarter of whole wheat pasta with the white. Then the next day, with a little more, you know? Just to get them acquainted with it. Before they won't even know the difference."

The head of the Poplar Bluff School lunches and Resident District Manager Paul Stolle said the changes could make the lunches more popular.

"You have to meet all of these requirements, and if you don't, you could jeopardize your school lunch program reimbursements from the state," Stolle said.

Stolle said in Poplar Bluff they meet periodically over the policy of their wellness program.

"We don't want to have to bring in a premade burrito, make it," Stolle said. "We are using fresh vegetables, fresh ingredients, wrapping it up and then offering it to the child. Versus, opening a prepackaged item. We try to continue to make fresh food as much as possible we love to use fresh vegetables."

The schools also try to utilize other seasonings besides salt to not rely on sodium.

"What can we do to introduce garlic powder, or curry, trying to educate these kids on different products," Stolle said.

The Poplar Bluff School District also has food focuses, this month is citrus. He said the schools try to incorporate citrus as much as possible into their meals.

"We do demonstration cooking just to show them what's going into these products," he said. "They love it!"

According to Stolle, school leaders talk with the kids as their eating the food so they know what the students like and don't like.

"If you don't talk to your customers, and know what they like, and don't like, how are you going to know what to put on the menus?"

Another way the district tries to encourage good eating habits is by having student food committees, questionnaires, talking to kids, and looking at what is being thrown out on their trays.

"All of that plays a part in trying to create the right menu," Stolle said.

The new rules could be in place as soon as next school year if Congress acts quickly. But, the bill does not spell out what exact changes would be made.

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Copyright 2016 KFVS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press also contributed to this story.