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TUSD lunches already close to new USDA mandates
school lunch pic1
Turlock Highs Real Fresh Mex cafeteria, which offers fresh, healthy options, is the most popular place on campus. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

School cafeterias will soon feature a lot more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and reduced sodium under new guidelines from the USDA.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled new national standards for school meals this week to improve health amongst our nation’s youth.

The new standards will affect more than 32 million students nationwide who receive school meals every day.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” said Obama in a released statement. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”

The new requirements include mandates for more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less sodium, saturated fat, trans fats along with calorie limits.

Turlock Unified School District Director of Child Nutrition Scott Soiseth said schools here already meet most of the mandates.

Launched in 2007, the TUSD Real Fresh menu improved school nutrition by leaps and bounds.

“The only part of the new standards we will have trouble with is the reduced sodium, which the USDA plans on reducing over the next 10 years,” he said.

Since 2007 TUSD school meals have included no trans fats, and there is increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We use only grass-fed chicken and beef. There are no hormones and no dairy cows. Our cheese is fresh grated with no preservatives,” said Soiseth.

Under the new standards elementary students will be required to be served a half cup of fruit, and at the secondary level students will receive a full cup.

“We will put it on their plate and we can only pray they will eat it,” said Soiseth.

Turlock High School features a Real Fresh Mex cafeteria that serves restaurant-quality burritos, nachos and taco salads.

“With things like our tortillas we will have to get more whole grains in them. With pizza there will have to be more whole grain crusts or something,” said Soiseth.

Perhaps the biggest issue for TUSD, as well as all school districts across the nation, will be that the new standards are only partially funded. The school district will receive about six cents a meal to implement the changes, but according to Soiseth, the actual costs will be between 30 to 40 cents a meal.

“It looks like we will have to increase our prices next year,” he explained.

Currently, school lunch in TUSD costs $2.50 and breakfast costs $1.50.

“Right now you can get lunch and breakfast for $4 and our food meets or exceeds restaurant quality food. Since 2007, when we rolled out our Real Fresh menu, I have not received a single complaint,” he said.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.