The start of the school year always brings about change, but one significant change this year will be evident in the cafeterias within Sweetwater ISD (Independent School District)--along with other school cafeterias throughout the entire country.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made waves during this presidential term through her "Let's Move" campaign--a program incepted to fight childhood obesity. With this movement, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was incepted and signed. And starting this school year, school districts nationwide must meet the new standards of nutrition for meals.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 strives to provide all children with healthy school food. Estimates suggest that across the country, over 31 million children receive meals through the school lunch program, with the majority of those children getting most, if not all, of their meals at school.
Other statistics note that over 17 million children nationwide live in food-insecure households, while one out of every three children considered overweight or obese. According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the federal agency that oversees food programs, "This legislation includes significant improvements that will help provide children with healthier and more nutritious food options, educate children about making healthy food choices, and teach children healthy habits that can last a lifetime.â€ť
The changes for nutrition will be made in phases spanning several years. For instance, the most evident change will be in regards to whole grains--in contrast to the currently served "refined grains". Beginning this school year, at least half of the grains served (in foods like breads, rolls, pizza crusts and buns) will have to be "whole grain rich"; two years from now, school districts across the nation will be required to make the increase to 100% of grains served.
More nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables will also be included in cafeteria food lines to make up a larger portion of the meals served. Larger portions and up to 2 cups of fruits and vegetables will be served to students, with minimums in place on how much fruits and/or vegetables a student must intake. Vegetables will also be split into different categories, like "dark green"--such as broccoli, or "red/orange vegetables" like sweet potatoes.
The act will also take on the amount of sodium included in school meals. Over a ten year period, total sodium must be reduced by more than 50%.
Upon the signing of the act in 2010, the federal government released a comparison chart of currently-served meals to what the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act would now require. At a typical American elementary school, for instance, a meal of a slice of cheese pizza, canned pineapple, tater tots with ketchup and low-fat chocolate milk would see an overhaul. Now, the meal would be comprised of a slice of whole wheat cheese pizza, baked sweet potato fries, grape tomatoes, applesauce, 1% or fat-free milk and low fat ranch dip.
Nevertheless, the federal act will allow for the government to provide additional funding to schools that meet the updated nutritional standards for the lunches. However, districts will undergo a required audit every three years for compliance to the standards.
Additionally, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will increase access to the school meals. Income requirements will be considered as to who certifies for the school meal program, while benchmarks will also be set for states to improve the certification process for students in receiving the meals.
Also as part of the changes, the prices of student lunches will increase; the plan from the USDA has all schools eventually setting their student lunch prices to at least $2.46. During the July meeting of the SISD Board of Trustees, a price change was approved within the district; students at JP Cowen, East Ridge and Southeast will now pay $2.20 for lunch. Sweetwater Intermediate and middle school students will pay $2.25, while Sweetwater High School Students will pay $2.30.
Furthermore, SISD will be making changes to payments by implementing online payments for the district's food service starting this year. While credit cards will no longer be accepted in the cafeterias within the school district, SISD will be using RevTrak, which allows parents to use their credit cards to make pre-payments on school meals through the district's website, www.sweetwaterisd.net.