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Schools Deal with the Heat of New Federal Lunch Guidelines

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MOUNT VERNON, Iowa - One month after schools started dishing up meals based on new federal guidelines, cafeteria crews are still working to get more comfortable with changes to their programs.

"Things are hurry up and we're trying to get through this and it's starting right now so it has been kind of tense," said Solon Community Schools Nutrition Director Kelly Crossley. "We haven't had a lot of time to prepare for it, but you know everybody is doing the best they can."

This school year is the first time the changes were put in place, and schools across Eastern Iowa had to adapt to the new food rules.

"We're just offering more fruits and vegetables. They need to take a fruit or vegetable," said Mount Vernon Food Service Director Marcia Purington.

Students must take a half cup of fruit or vegetables for the meal to follow the guidelines. There are also more whole grains and less saturated fat. Mount Vernon cooks found themselves creating and cooking new recipes to make it all work, and sometimes that means more prep time.

"It's made us think a little broader with what we're serving today we're having butternut squash. It will have a seasoning sprinkled on it," Purington said.

Kitchens are busy checking and re-checking the menu to ensure each meal follows the guidelines.

"I have a stack of memos and information about the guidelines that I still have to leaf through to make sure I'm following the guidelines and I'm doing what I need to do," Crossley said.

Crossley modeled her first six week cycle of the school menu off another district in Kansas to ensure she's doing it correctly. Each meal that follows the rules leads to a reimbursement of 6 cents to the school from the government. That money is meant to help schools pay for the needed changes.

"You think six cents isn't a big deal but by the end of the year that's $10,000 which every program really needs that," Crossley said.

Overall, Crossley said she's not alone in saying the changes are pretty overwhelming.

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