National lunch guidelines cause more conflict in schools

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – After heavy criticism nationwide, the United States Department of Agriculture has relaxed on some of the new school menu requirements, but some administrators say the adjustment does little to remedy the students' complaints.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in December that the USDA will allow school food administrators to prepare meals for students that include larger portions of proteins and grains.

However, the calorie restrictions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act remain in place. Nettleton Public Schools Nutrition Director Dawn Ragsdale said because of the calorie restrictions, the resulting adjustments will be insignificant.

"Neither of those items can you add back without adding calories, and we're already at the calorie peak, so to speak, on most of our menus," she said. "What it has allowed us to do is maybe go back and put another tablespoon of Ranch dressing on, and I know that sounds funny, but that's where we're down to."

One difference the announcement has brought, Ragsdale said, is that she and her staff are in the process of re-examining the months of work they have already done to prepare the school menus for federal certification.

"We are now only serving skim white milk or skim chocolate milk because we can't make the menus fit with one percent milk. It's that much of a difference and there's very few calories to play with on each age group."

Ragsdale believes in the effort from lawmakers to tackle childhood obesity, but said there is still a  long way to go in figuring out the best way to do it.

"I'm all for dark green vegetables. I'm for giving the kids variety. In fact, I eat most of these things that we serve. It's just that our students aren't taking it," she said.

"I think they just really need to come in and see what's being thrown away, what we're having to prepare that is not going into the kids anyways."

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