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TUSD to continue healthy meals despite regulation rollback
school lunch
Prior to the USDA rolling back its school lunch standards, TUSD cafeterias served fat free chocolate milk. Under the new guidelines, students will enjoy 1 percent flavored milk (Photo contributed).

Despite recent changes to standards for meals served in schools, students in Turlock Unified School District will still enjoy lunches that are healthy and delicious.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this month published a final rule on school meal flexibilities, making targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Under the new, “flexible” rules, schools will have more options on what they serve when it comes to milk, sodium and whole-grain products.

“USDA is committed to serving meals to kids that are both nutritious and satisfying,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “These common-sense flexibilities provide excellent customer service to our local school nutrition professionals, while giving children the world-class food service they deserve.”

The final rule rolls back former first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch initiative, eliminating some of the nutritional standards previously set in place by saving schools from having to cut the salt in students’ meals or work in whole grains and non-fat milk.

Beginning Feb. 11, 2019, schools can serve flavored, low-fat milk to children, and the number of weekly grains required to be whole grain-rich will be cut in half.

Schools will also have more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals. The Obama Administration’s nutrition rules were designed to essentially cut current salt levels in school lunches in half by 2022; current school lunches contain about 1.2 to 1.4 grams of salt. The Trump Administration is keeping that number the same until at least 2024.

According to TUSD Child Nutrition Director Scott Soiseth, the changes to meal standards will have little effect on the food the District serves.

“We’ve worked hard to get where we’re at, and the kids are accustomed to it,” Soiseth said.

One leniency TUSD is likely to give in to, however, is serving 1 percent flavored milk, which Soiseth says contains a better flavor balance than the non-fat option. TUSD currently serves fat-free chocolate milk.

As for whole-grain products, the District already serves a majority whole-grain menu, which even includes pizza and corndogs. TUSD may explore options for pasta that are not whole grain, Soiseth said, as noodles made from refined grains tend to be tastier. Under the final rule up to 50 percent of a school’s food products can be from refined grains, but Soiseth believes TUSD will stay in the 10 to 20 percent range.

Perdue said schools have faced challenges serving meals that both are appetizing to students and meet the Obama-era nutrition standards.

“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” Perdue said.

Since TUSD began offering healthier meals, participation in the lunch and breakfast programs has only increased, Soiseth said.

“We find the cleanest, most natural products and get a variety out there for the kids. The menu is kid tested, and kid approved,” he said. “It’s all kid-friendly meals using fresh products.”