The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

April 20, 2013

Mankato school lunches a healthful work in progress

Students saw a lot of changes in menu this year

MANKATO — At Mankato Area Public Schools, the idea of what lunch is remains a concept that is in flux.

Case in point: At the beginning of the year, new guidelines put in place for schools by the Food and Drug Administration prompted the schools to shrink the size of the hamburger patties to 2 ounces, an ounce less than the burgers were the previous spring.

“We got feedback from parents,” said Ron Schirmers, food service director at Mankato schools. “You can’t take a senior high football player and feed him the same as a seventh-grader who doesn’t play sports. We were getting some calls that said, ‘My kid’s not getting enough to eat.’”

Mid-year, with the blessing of the FDA — which was flexible and willing to listen to parents and school concerns — the size of those burger patties was bumped back up to 21⁄2 ounces.

That change illustrates how the school district’s menu is a work in progress but definitely heading down the road to helping students eat more healthful lunches.

Students saw a lot of changes in their menu this year. In addition to the different burger patties, they were greeted last fall with a lot more fruits and vegetable than they’ve ever seen, and a significant decrease in some things they’d seen on a regular basis.

More carrots have been on the menu. Sweet potatoes have been on the menu. Romaine lettuce has been more frequent in place of iceberg. French fries have become scarce. And Schirmers said that students appear to like it.

“We haven’t had any complaints at all,” he said.

The FDA put in place calorie limits on lunches. For students K-5, the calorie limit was 350-500. For grades 6-8, 400-550. And in grades 9-12, 450-600. Because of those limits, some of the work-around solutions available to hungry students were gone.

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