EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – Students in Eastchester will notice some healthier options in the cafeteria when they return to school this week.
School meals across the country are getting a makeover, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“This year, the most obvious changes will be that one of the three food components that the students choose must be a fruit or vegetable," said Jo-Anne Ricapito, Lakeland Central School District director of food and nutrition.
Other new federal requirements include banning milk with more than 1 percent milk fat. All flavored milk, including chocolate milk, must be fat-free. In addition, schools that do not have a water fountain in the cafeteria must provide water with cups. Use of starches in school lunches is also being cut back significantly.
“The Eastchester school district does not participate in the federal lunch program and therefore is not bound by government guidelines,” district spokesperson Mary Ellen Byrne said. “However, Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service company, has been following similar initiatives to improve lunch offerings for a number of years.”
Eastchester menus emphasize lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free milk, low sodium, and the elimination of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors wherever possible, she said.
“The food service actually exceeds USDA standards by baking all foods instead of frying, eliminating all trans fats and abolishing processed foods,” Byrne said. “Food is cooked from scratch in small batches, using wholesome ingredients.”
The new federal meal requirements, which were announced in January, will raise nutritional standards for the first time in more than 15 years. They are intended to improve the health and nutrition of the nearly 32 million children who participate in school meal programs.
The requirements are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was championed by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Many area schools have taken measures to make school meals healthier. Tom Cole, assistant superintendent for business in the Yorktown Central School District, told parents in a letter last month that the district has made big changes to lunches in recent years.
For example, he said, recipes are continuously revised to include a variety of whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and minimally processed meat and poultry. The district also provides daily salad offerings in all schools; hormone- and antibiotic-free milk; no high-fructose corn syrup, MSG or partially hydrogenated oils; and regular student involvement through focus groups and food tastings.
School meals in Yorktown also are handled by Whitsons Culinary Group, but district staff members still play an important role, as is the case in the Eastchester Union Free School District.