Cedar Rapids Schools Call Some Serving Sizes Too Big
By Forrest Saunders, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - All this week, Cedar Rapids cafeterias have been dishing up unique entrées to celebrate National School Lunch Week. It's a party of sorts, but also proof new federal regulations from the National School Lunch Program have kids eating healthier.
They're choosing meals with less salt and more fruits and vegetables.
"We are seeing students select things that we thought were going to be difficult to see them select," said Amanda Brown, a dietitian with the district’s food and nutrition department. "The legume group, we've done the chickpeas and they're going well at all levels."
What's not going as well is what ends up in the trash. It's not because elementary students are rejecting the healthier fare, but that kids have too much to eat. The federal rules mandate each meal tray holds a specific amount of calories for elementary students, but K through about 2rd aren't clearing their plates.
"They have to take a minimum of a half of a cup of a fruit or vegetable. That's just too much. That serving size is just too much. They may take a few bites and the rest goes in the trash," said Suzy Ketelsen, the district's food and nutrition department manager.
Those healthy options aren't cheap. It's become money the district is literally throwing away.
"It's been very expensive," said Ketelsen.
The fix might be changing the way calorie limits are handed out. Currently, they’re based on age, with high school students getting lunches that contain 750 to 850 calories, middle schoolers getting 600 to 700, and lunches for elementary students, between 550 and 650.
Cedar Rapids officials would like limits based on a student's daily activity, not their age.
"We'd love to be able to say if you live and enjoy a very active lifestyle, this is the number of calories you should eat. If you are more sedentary, then this is the number you should eat," said Ketelsen.
Ketelsen said basing calories off of activity would also address some critics’ concern that calorie limits for high school and middle school students are too low.
She said the district is feeding all their calorie concerns to the USDA, who manages the national program, in hopes the department will cook up some changes to the school lunch program in the near future.
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