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It’s lunchtime

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Local schools have already made proposed changes to menus to make them healthier for children.

By James Roberts

 

Local schools are ahead of the curve.

Attempting to help make children across the nation healthier, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which goes into effect in July, will mandate healthier lunches and limit access to vending machines and bake sales, while also providing extra funding for poorer areas.

But Kentucky has been doing that for years, says Jeff Richardson, Campbellsville Independent Schools' director of pupil personnel and food service. As a result, he says, the only major change local schools are likely to see would be an increase in federal funding for food services.

With the new guidelines, schools will receive an additional 6 cents per lunch. For Campbellsville Independent, that's an extra $10,000. For Taylor County Schools, that's an extra $21,000.

"The purpose of the extra funding is to offset costs," said Gertie Graves, Taylor County Schools' director of school nutrition. "Students and parents will benefit by the schools being able to maintain nutrition standards without increasing the meal price."

Another change may be the type of milk served, Graves said.

"The only change I foresee is a lessening of regulations regarding milk," she said. "We currently have restrictive requirements concerning fat contents and the new bill simply requires the schools to 'offer a variety of fluid milk consistent with the Dietary Guidelines recommendations.'"

When it comes to healthy school lunches, Kentucky is a model, according to Graves.

"Kentucky definitely sets the standard for the U.S. in regard to healthy school meals. State regulations are much stricter than federal, therefore, we have already made the changes of reducing fat, sugar and salt in our meals, increasing fiber, offering more fresh fruit and vegetable choices and lowfat milk products, prohibiting sales of 'junk' food in the schools and requiring nutritional analysis of our meals."

Richardson said the new guidelines could also increase the number of students eligible for free lunches.

Currently, the state sends school districts information annually that determines which students are eligible for free lunch.

"Under the new guidelines, the state will update every month," Richardson said. "That way, no one is missed."

Along those same lines, Richardson said, there should also be extra funding for summer feeding programs. Those details, he said, are still being worked out.

As for vending machine access, both school districts have had those policies in place for years, Richardson said. The policies regulate when students can access the vending machines as well as the items for sale in the machines.

In the end, school lunch is a big business that requires a lot of funding to keep quality food on cafeteria tables. Last year, Campbellsville served about 161,000 meals. Taylor County Schools served about 350,000.

And the extra funding is much needed, Graves said.

"This extra funding, although insufficient, is greatly needed to offset the ever-increasing cost of food, repairs and employee-related expenses."

Richardson said he and Graves work together on their lunch programs. They bid items together and collaborate on policies.

"We're feeding all the kids," Richardson said. "We work together. We bid together to get lower prices, so we're already saving money. It's a win-win for everybody."