Operators react to lifting of protein, grain maxes

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

Directors say move will allow for greater flexibility and easier menu planning and purchasing.

By Becky Schilling, Editor

Last month the USDA permanently lifted the regulation that set maximums for the amount of grain and protein that could be served each week in school lunches. FSD talked with several operators to gauge their reactions and to see what effect the elimination of the rule will have on their menu development.

Linda Stoll, executive director of food services, Jeffco Public Schools, Golden, Colo.: “Jeffco was very relieved to have the maximums lifted permanently. I feel that as long as we are meeting the daily minimums and are staying within the calorie limits, we are providing the type of meal that promotes healthy eating habits in our students. Jeffco is a large district that operates [its] own warehouse. It was operationally very difficult to have to carry two different sizes of products, one for elementary and one for secondary, to assure that we were able to stay under the maximums.”

Joanne Kinsey, director of school nutrition services, Chesapeake Public Schools, Virginia: “The permanent lifting of grain and protein maximums will restore popular menu items that were eliminated during the 2012-2013 school year. Although we received information on the temporary lift on maximums, we did not change our menu items. We held to the nutritional standards we submitted on our Certification Worksheet for the additional 6 cents. Our decision to hold to the original regulations was based on the premise that we did not want to disappoint our students a second time if the maximums remained as originally written. Our procurement system was also based on the new regulations. To bounce back and forth with bid specifications would not have been a good business decision either. We allow for annual renewals and this could have caused confusion with our manufacturers and distributors. We will now be able to move ahead in menu planning, commodity processing and bid specifications for the coming year with confidence that we will be able to ensure consistency to our customers and design menus for all grade levels that meet the nutritional guidelines.”

Chapman Syle, director of school nutrition. Stafford County Schools, Fredericksburg, Va.: “The permanent lifting of the grain and protein maximums is a good thing for the National School Lunch Program. It makes good sense when making the menu and for meal acceptance with the students. Trying to meet the calorie targets as well as the component minimum/maximums at the same time was almost impossible. Menu acceptance and appearance as well as participation told the story. In Stafford County, our participation decreased by 8% (1,200 meals per day) once we implemented the new meal guidelines. The grain and protein maximums reduced the size (plate coverage) of the most popular bread and main entree items. With the maximums lifted, menus are better received and calorie targets can still be met. At the same time we were required to raise our meal prices (due to the meal price equity rule) for lunch; in our case 40 cents in three years. So the lunch got smaller, the price went up and participation went down. Hopefully, we are almost finished with all the help and improvements. We're slowly getting back on track.”

Wayne Grasela, senior vice president, division of food services, School District of Philadelphia: “The lifting of the maximums provides stability for future menu planning to assure it will be realistic. Under the original rule, we could not offer a sandwich daily because the two slices of bread exceeded weekly grain limits. The meal calorie limits still remain in the rules, so the overall goal of the intended meal pattern change remains effective in improving the menu.”

Mark Bordeau, senior director of foodservices, Broome-Tioga BOCES, New York: “The change in USDA regulations lifting the maximums in grains and proteins makes menu planning and nutritional requirements much easier to meet and gives flexibility in meeting high school customers’ preferences. Items that are portioned by size are now able to be increased and are more eye appealing and acceptable to students; i.e., chicken products (popcorn, nuggets) and items such as tacos that now fill the grain shells that accompany the item.”

Melanie Konarik, director of child nutrition, Spring Independent School District, Houston: “The USDA permanently lifting the grains and protein maximums will allow us to offer more variety and to return to cycle menu favorites such as school-prepared whole-grain calzones and a traditional celebration menu like roast sliced turkey, cornbread dressing and a whole-grain roll. The regulations, which caused us to change these traditional popular menus, brought many complaints from parents. This permanent change will allow us the flexibility to satisfy both our students and parents and our USDA nutrition regulations.”

Eli Huff, executive chef and culinary operations coordinator, Union Public Schools, Tulsa, Okla.: “Kids don’t like to purchase a sandwich that has two slices of meat and a slice of cheese. We did a menu for the football team this past summer and the coaches said the players weren’t getting enough protein or carbs to fuel their workouts. My one concern is with the sodium limits that are coming in the next couple of years. If there is no limit on the amount of meat, how does that fold into the sodium restrictions? We don’t want to make changes now and then have to go back and decrease items like ham in two years to meet the sodium regulations.”