School Lunches May See Changes Again

School districts are preparing for what could be another change to how they serve lunch.

Augusta, GA ­- A vote on Capitol Hill tomorrow could bring lunch rooms around the country a step closer to changing.  A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill revises healthier meal plans put in place in 2010.  That change would prolong sodium reduction levels and allow for less whole grains.

Fruits like oranges and grains like hot cereal in school districts will stay the same.  But it’s the canned foods that have high sodium levels that will cause places like Warren County School District to alter how they prepare meals.

Nutrition Director Scott Richardson walked into the high school cafeteria and looked over Tuesday’s lunch.   “We do 638 meals out of this kitchen every day.”

Salad, peaches and whole wheat pizza, both meat and chicken quesadilla was on the menu.

“This satisfies the School Nutrition Association’s requirements for a well-balanced school meal,” Richardson explained.

School lunches just took a calorie dive in 2010, now they could change again.  Richardson welcomed News Channel 6 into the Warren County High School cafeteria to explain how federal legislation, which eases grain restrictions and delays sodium decreases, could change how he feeds his 100 percent free breakfast and lunch kids.

“What you’re going to see if this legislation passes is an easing of those restrictions to be able to get away from that whole grain and get back to the possibility of a one grain,” he said.

The legislation introduced last week by Senators on both sides of the aisle requires schools lower sodium levels by 2019 instead of next year.

Richardson showed us a large can of black beans and said, “Notice that the serving content here is 140mg per serving and the serving size is a half of cup which is USDA regulations for what we have to serve for our students every day.”

He explained what his staff currently does this way, “Before we would just open this can, dump it into our hotel pans and cook them up however we would cook them based on the recipes that we have.”

Conversely he added, “Starting next year, if the legislation doesn’t change, each one of these cans has to be dumped into this colander.  Then the colander has to be taken over and a lunch room lady will have to go and rinse the colander under water for 20 to 30 seconds to try and cut the sodium content in half.”

Milk does a body good, especially athletes.  The school’s coach is already making protein shakes with excess milk, but he’s hoping he can get more protein, such as beef and chicken, packed onto lunch plates.

Coach Cherard Freeman told us, “Protein helps build muscles and protein helps muscles to grow and protein is very important in sports because you have to lift weights and you have to get stronger.”

The Athletic Director and Head Football coach added that school lunch does a good job of supplying carbohydrates, which energizes his players.  He makes the protein shakes and has the school’s alumni bring pre game meals on Friday to ensure his players, many of whom are underweight, are big enough for game time.

Richardson said the change will not impact his kitchen a whole lot.  He said that’s because about 85 percent of the meals they prepare are from scratch.  While there are a few complaints, he said many of the kids like the food and changes, particularly the delayed sodium decrease, might actually help it taste better.

He said, “A lot of times the kids want to taste that salt because they’re used to that at home. Salt is a natural part of how we eat food.  But salt is also a big indicator, depending on how much you intake, of a lot of later in life health issues.”

The Senate Agricultural committee is set to vote on this bill Wednesday.

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