Whole grains in schools: Give kids a chance

by Eric Schroeder
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New whole grain requirements for school meals left some questioning whether the transition should be rolled back.

 

BOSTON — The National School Lunch program in 2012-13 began requiring that at least half the grain foods served in schools qualify as whole grain-rich, and this past summer rules kicked in that required all grain foods at breakfast and lunch must be whole grain-rich. The requirement sent some school districts and suppliers scrambling and left others, including the School Nutrition Association, to ponder whether the transition was taking place too quickly and should be rolled back.

In the minds of two school food service panelists at the recent Whole Grains Council conference held Nov. 9-11 at the Hyatt Boston Harbor, the question of whether the standards should be rolled back couldn’t be more clear: No way.

“I am with the position of the past 19 School Nutrition Association presidents who brought forward the new standards, who worked with the U.S.D.A., who worked with federal officials to agree that this is the correct way to move forward,” said Mellissa Honeywood, R.D., director of food and nutrition services for Cambridge public schools in Cambridge, Mass.

In rolling back the standards, Ms. Honeywood said government would be doing a disservice to children.

“We are not being responsible if we are not addressing the nutrition of our children,” she said. “I feel that instead of focusing on how we cannot do something, let’s focus on what is possible, what obstacles need to change.”

Ms. Honeywood said her role as a registered dietitian gives her the knowledge to create menus for children and to help explain the perception versus the reality of school food, but the fact she needs to be a registered dietitian to understand all the nitty-gritty details also demonstrates that “the system we have is very complicated.”

“We all have the same goal of feeding children healthy food, let’s figure out a way to do it that is financially sustainable, responsible to the youth that we serve, that will also be in partnership between private industry and what we want our youth to see,” she said.

Samantha Weiss, R.D., supervisor of menu planning and special diets for the Boston public school system, agreed with Ms. Honeywood in siding with the stance of the past 19 S.N.A. presidents.

“With Boston specifically, we’ve been doing the regulations,” Ms. Weiss said. “For us, whole grains have kind of been a part of it. So when we had to make 51% of all of our grains whole grain it was something where we had like one product that was not meeting it already. So it is something that is already in the past, it’s something that is now part of our staff, it’s part of our system as well as so many other districts throughout the country. It’s already a part of us.”

Ms. Weiss acknowledged a few districts are being very vocal about trying to reverse back the standards, but stressed that, overall, right now is an exciting time for school nutrition. As examples, she pointed to schools focusing on getting hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken in schools, as well as schools eying more local procurement.

“We’ve said, okay, we can deal with the regulations, now let’s focus on all the other issues that we can do to improve school food and improve the health of our nation’s youth,” she said.

Building on Ms. Weiss’ comments, Ms. Honeywell concluded her remarks on the subject by adding, “If we don’t give kids an opportunity to try new healthy things, they will never try new healthy things. If you don’t give them a chance to experience that, then that’s a fault on us. It’s not a fault on the kids because we never gave them the benefit of the doubt. We never gave them a chance to try something new. We are deciding for them that it’s too difficult. We are deciding for them that they won’t like it. Give them a chance. You will see the changes in the students.”
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