The USDA Diet – Getting Less for More

Sublette County School District #1 Food Service Director Gail Wilkerson has a huge challenge on her hands.  Based on the new USDA guidelines for school lunches, Gail has to find a way to satisfy a lot of hungry kids while giving them less food each day.  And the food she serves will have more vegetables, less sodium and less fat.  The USDA is putting our kids on a diet.

The new guidelines will require less than 30% of total meal calories coming from fat (we already meet this requirement).  All grains must be whole wheat.  And no more than 1 starchy vegetable per week including potatoes, peas, and corn.  For a lot of meat and potato Wyoming families, this is going to be a bit of a change.  In addition, the following minimum and maximum calorie and sodium limits per day will apply over time:

Calories                     Sodium

Grades K-5                                    550-650                   max 640 mg

Grades 6-8                                     600-700                   max 710 mg

Grades 9-12                                   750-850                   max 740 mg

Few will argue that these new guidelines are not beneficial in addressing a national childhood obesity problem and from that perspective I support them.  But this news comes with an important caveat for many of our families.  The reality is that not all children have a weight problem and for many families with active children, you can expect that those kids who eat breakfast and/or lunch at school, are going to be hungry during the day.   This will be frustrating to many parents.  Please understand that we are providing each of our students with as much nutrition as we possibly can.

This is especially true for our student athletes.  The University of Illinois Extension Q&A on Sports Nutrition states that an athletic teenage boy may need up to 5,000 calories a day.   The daily limit we can provide for those students is 12%-17% of that need.  Parents of these students may want to consider providing their students with snacks after school and prior to practice.

Gail has been tremendously proactive in her meal planning.  We already offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and her investment in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program at Pinedale Elementary will assist our students in making the transition to menus that contain greater quantities of fruits and vegetables.  That puts us one step ahead of most schools in the nation.

Our district will also be required to charge a minimum price for our meals based on a state-wide average.  The average state-wide price for lunches is $1.95 for elementary schools, $2.22 for middle and junior high schools, and $2.23 for high schools.  Breakfast rates run between $1.11 and $1.21.  The law allows for a gradual price increase over several years.  It also states that the maximum price increase for 2011-2012 is $0.10.   While the ten cent increase was an option for SCSD #1, we are one of the districts described in the USDA memo as having a “significant gap” in meal prices.  As such, we consulted with the WDE Nutrition department to express concerns that the $0.10 increase would be too small over time and SCSD #1 would fail to meet the required minimum average price in the future.  If this were to occur, our parents could experience massive sticker shock in a subsequent year.   We were advised by WDE that we could exceed the $0.10 maximum increase.  They also felt larger increases would be prudent.  Knowing the significant gap we had to close, we felt that a larger, but more gradual annual increase in lunch prices would be the sensible course of action to comply with this new regulation.

In addition, the district had been subsidizing the lunch program with excess recapture money to offset an annual food service program deficit of over $200,000 (primarily the result of the low prices we were charging).  By law, the district was required to expend its excess recapture money prior to June 30, 2011.  As a result, we no longer have this resource to assist in keeping lunch prices down.  While we understand that any increase in prices is a burden on our families given the current economy, we feel the meals served by our cafeterias are still the best deal in town.  

So the long and short of it is that as parents we will pay more to get less.  And as always, we encourage our parents to consult the literature regarding free and reduced lunch eligibility available at each of our schools.   While this news seems to be just another hurdle for our families during tough economic times,  Gail and her staff always seem to have a trick up their sleeve that allows them to provide great tasting meals for our students.  For those of you that like the details, you can access the presentation given by Gail to our Board of Trustees at their regularly scheduled meeting in June regarding the new USDA guidelines.  The link is below.  If you have any questions about these changes, please feel free to contact Gail at 367-2828 extension 2283 or visit our school nutrition website.

School Lunch Program Changes – School Board Presentation May 2011


About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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2 Responses to The USDA Diet – Getting Less for More

  1. Rollie Myers says:

    I was teaching when Gail Wilkerson was still Gail Loose. She is A #1. You couldn’t have a better person in charge. It’s just a shame there has to be restriction after restriction after restriction. What’s good for a few isn’t always good for the rest. And the Pinedale School System is certainly an exception to many things nationwide.

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