Schools preparing healthier menus

Audrey Rowe
Audrey Rowe, administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school lunch programs. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law in 2010. It's being put into place over a number of years to improve kids' eating habits and health.
MPR photo/Julie Siple

When most Minnesota public schools open in a few weeks, lunch trays will look slightly different from years past. Breads will be whole grain, meat portions will be smaller and there will be more vegetables.

Minnesota schools are starting to phase in parts of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in 2010. It will be implemented over a number of years to improve kids' eating habits and health.

In addition to the healthier fare, the new guidelines limit the amount of calories in each student's meal.

Audrey Rowe, administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spoke to MPR's All Things Considered about the changes on Tuesday.

"This is an opportunity for us to create a healthier lifestyle for our children and for their families," Rowe said.

Rowe knows it will be a struggle to get students accustomed to vegetables in their lunch trays.

"Schools have to learn to offer the food in such a way that it's attractive," Rowe said. "As a child gets introduced to it, the more attractive the layout is in the school cafeteria, the more tasteful the food. Then I think we'll begin to see them readily accepting these changes."

Schools will see a 6-cent boost in payments for each healthy lunch served, which the USDA said is the first substantial meal funding increase in 30 years. Schools will start to phase in changes to breakfasts in coming years.

The Minnesota Department of Education has been working with schools this summer to prepare for the menu changes. Their technique is to offer a greater variety of vegetables.

What about lunchroom standbys like pizza?

"You will have pizza, but it will be whole grain crust, it will be low fat cheese, it will be low sodium salt," Rowe said.

And it's going to be served with a salad.

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