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Dexter Adds More Fruits, Whole Grains to Lunch Menu

The United States Department of Agriculture has set new requirements for public school lunches that will alter the foods students will be served in cafeterias this year.

Schools nationwide will be serving healthier lunches this year.

Dexter Community Schools is no exception. Like other districts across the country, it will implement new guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture this year that aim to improve the quality of school lunches by increasing the nutritional value.

“The focus is really to get schools to use more whole grain products and to make sure they’re serving healthier portion sizes of the higher-calorie items like meat, and increase on fruit and vegetables,” Sarah Simmerman, food and nutrition services director said.

School lunches are now separated into five components: meats/meat alternates, grains, fruits, vegetables and milk. A student must take three of the five components for it to be considered a meal, and one of those components must be at least one serving of a fruit or vegetable.

"We already offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but now it's no longer optional. In order to be reimbursed for lunches, kids can't leave the lunch line without a fruit or vegetable on their plate," she said. "That's not a problem for the elementary schools, but middle school and high school students are much pickier eaters.

"I think it’s an excellent regulation. There might be some initial food waste, but by putting an apple on your lunch tray, someone will eat it."

Simmerman said the district offers a fresh fruit and salad bar and includes grains such as quinoa, whole grain oatmeal, and couscous as regular menu items at all six schools.

"Having the items available in the district is not the hard part. It's a matter of marketing the nutritional food to kids so they eat it," she said.

The new rules will also require districts to reduce sodium and saturated fat levels in school meals.

"Our saturated fat content is below federal guidelines, which is roughly 10 percent," Simmerman said. "Sodium is a bit more challenging because, while we don't add salt in our food products, it is a natural ingredient in cheeses and other foods."

Pizza will still be on the lunch menu at Dexter schools, but will be made with whole grain crust, Simmerman noted.

Additionally, the USDA has regulated the minimum and maximum amounts of certain meal components that schools can give to each student:

Kindergarten-Grade 5:

  • Fruits: ½ cup minimum per day
  • Vegetables: ¾ cup minimum per day
  • Grains: 8-9 ounces per week
  • Meats/meat alternates: 8-10 ounces per week
  • Calories: 550-650 calories per lunch
  • Trans fat: 0 trans fat

Grades 6-8:

  • Fruits: ½ cup minimum per day
  • Vegetables: ¾ cup minimum per day
  • Grains: 8-10 ounces per week
  • Meats/meat alternates: 9-10 ounces per week
  • Calories: 600-700 calories per lunch
  • Trans fat: 0 trans fat

Grades 9-12:

  • Fruits: 1 cup minimum per day
  • Vegetables: 1 cup minimum per day
  • Grains: 10-12 ounces per week
  • Meats/meat alternates: 10-12 ounces per week
  • Calories: 750-850 calories per lunch
  • Trans fat: 0 trans fat

Snacks and beverages

While the new guidelines do not come with mandates for snacks served at school, Simmerman said Dexter has taken on regulating a la carte snacks, as well as beverages. Items like pop and candy are not sold in district vending machines. In addition, the district phased out diet carbonated beverages last year and swapped out its 1 percent chocolate and white milk to zero percent.

"We do have some Twix bars in the vending machines, but that's because there is protein in the bars and they are small," Simmerman said. "Most of the vending machines have baked chips, water, tea, and healthier snacks."

The district also sells cookies and other ala carte items at the middle school and high school.

"With our younger grades, if we offer a cookie at lunch, it meets the saturated fat, and calorie requirements for that meal," she said.

New lunch prices

This year was required to raise its lunch prices for the first time since 2005.

Superintendent Mary Marshall said the district was required to raise lunch prices to keep in compliance with the Healthy-Free Kids Act of 2010, a federal mandate which requires districts to increase paid lunch charges until the revenue per lunch matches the federal free lunch reimbursement given to the district.

Dexter students at the elementary level now pay $2.50 and a middle or high school lunch is $2.75. Simmerman said school breakfasts are still $1.25 at the elementary level and $1.50 at the middle school and high school.

"We're still have one of the lowest lunch prices in the county. It was hard to raise the prices, but it was something that needed to be done," Simmerman said.

For more information about the school lunch program, contact Simmerman at 734-424-4186.

Julie September 06, 2012 at 01:31 PM
BRAVO!! Fantastic to see these improvements! Good job Dexter!
Mara Dove September 06, 2012 at 02:12 PM
This is a very welcome change! Hooray Dexter!
Mary Marshall September 06, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Sara and her team have been on the forefront of healthier school lunches for several years! You would be surprised by how many healthy nutrients they can sneak into a lunch kids like. Dexter is lucky to have Sara, Margee, and their entire team planning for our kids' healthy eating options.

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