October 29, 2012

Healthier options for school lunches

Local school corporations adhere to strict federal standards

by Amie Sites

— Melea Henry, head cook of Thompson Elementary, started making changes to the lunch menus when she knew the U.S. Department of Agriculture was going to create stricter standards.  

Three years ago, Southeastern School Corporation began by having all grain-rich products replaced with whole grain. Henry said she met with the other head cooks within the corporation, and they revised all menus for the schools.

“We went through every item and every product was analyzed and put in a nutrition base,” Henry said. “USDA was lagging behind. We knew it was coming down the pike so we started working on the changes.” 

The USDA updated nutrition standards for school meals this year as part of a provision in The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012, a press release stated. 

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act focuses on improving child nutrition and authorizes funding and sets policy for USDA’s core child nutrition programs. 

The press release said these changes are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine and begin to take effect this school year. 

Zane Densborn, a sophomore at Logansport High School, said he didn’t notice many of the changes besides the type of bread being used. He said the bread served was harder than before. 

Densborn said he also noticed signs on products displaying the amount of protein, what type of grain it was and if a salad dressing was low-fat. 

“It seems the majority of students don’t like the lunches,” Densborn said. “I’ve noticed, especially in high school, that a lot more people bring their lunches.” 

The USDA is requiring all grains be whole grain, both vegetables and fruits must be offered, flavored milk must be skim milk, calories must be limited based on age and reduced sodium is to come. 

Henry said the biggest change has been requiring students to take either a fruit or vegetable. Before students worked on a component system where they have to take 3 of 5 components. Now one of those have to be fruits or vegetables, she said. 

Logansport Community School Corporation, Pioneer School Corporation and Caston School Corporation are also serving meals to meet the new federal nutrition standards. 

Kelly Lease, Logansport’s food director, said the hope is healthier choices will become part of their diet on a regular basis. 

“Like anything else, they will resist change some, but hopefully over time, they will come around,” Lease said. “I have been out at the schools almost every day talking to students and getting feedback. Honestly I haven’t heard many complaints.” 

Henry said she hasn’t really received complaints or support for the stricter standards at Thompson but she had previously received complaints about milk being switched to skim milk. 

Grace Densborn, a seventh grader at Columbia Middle School, said a lot of students at her school throw the food away. She said she will usually get a salad and eat the cucumbers in it and sometimes she’ll bring her lunch. 

There have been reports of resistance from school kids throughout the nation over the changes to lunch menus. 

Alysha Kouskousakis, Caston’s food director, said she has seen more packed lunches and fewer kids in line. 

“I would like if we could encourage them to try to take more vegetables or fruit,” Kouskousakis said. “The government is all about controlling the obesity rate, so it has pin pointed the schools to take responsibility for the issue.”  

Amie Sites is a reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5150 or

Fast Facts

Updated nutrition standards include:

Limiting calories based on age of children

Reducing sodium 

Providing only fat-free or low-fat milk

Increased whole grain-rich foods 

Offering both fruits and vegetables daily