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Students receptive to more flexible nutrition in schools
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Turlock Unified School District junior high and high schools students are enjoying larger and healthier meals at school after a decision by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to give school districts the flexibility to permanently increase the portion of lean protein and whole grains served.

In 2012, the USDA implemented an interim regulation that allowed schools to increase the portion size of protein and grains as long as the value of calories did not increase. It has been made a permanent regulation as of Jan. 2. Prior to the interim regulation the USDA schools were limited to serving two ounces of protein and grains. This led to students purchasing two meals to satisfy their hunger or supplementing school bought meals with snacks from home, according to TUSD Director of Nutrition Scott Soiseth.

“When it was a smaller portion it really impacted us negatively. Before this change a lot students moved away from purchasing food at school. They felt it wasn’t a good value for their dollar and the portion really did impact their willingness to purchase,” said Soiseth.

The new regulation has lead to a leaner meal with a larger portion of healthier proteins and whole grains. TUSD now is able to offer a quarter of a free range rotisserie chicken instead of a leg and has increased free range beef burger patties from two ounces to four ounces. While the portion has increased, the calorie limit on meals has remained the same. With a maximum of 650 to 750 calories per meal, most entrees are around the 350 to 400 calorie range.

“The change has not impacted the number of calories in the meal but has instead allowed us to offer a bigger portion of a leaner product. The fat and calories has not increased despite the increase in portion size,” said Soiseth.

While the sizes of meals are increasing, so is the number of students purchasing meals at schools. Soiseth attributes the success of the new regulation to the efforts of the School Nutrition Association which works with the USDA and legislators to voice concerns of the schools. The SNA’s efforts as well as the USDA’s work with the public have led to the permanent change.

“Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning. We delivered on that promise,” said Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon .