School nutrition beat keeps busy: Ketchup returns to Anderson County, more students eating at school in Allen County

School meal programs continue to make news, as schools, students and parents adjust to the latest round of federal guidelines to combat childhood obesity and make sure no child goes hungry.

The second and third Kentucky counties in the alphabetical list were two of the latest in the news.
In Allen County, expansion of a free-meals program means that almost all children are getting breakfast at school.

Following parental complaints in Anderson County, the schools are again offering ketchup, which had been removed because of its high salt content, Shelley Spillman reports for The Anderson News.

The problem, Food Service Director Ronnie Fields told Spillman, was the unavailability of low-sodium ketchup. All the cafeteria offerings had been configured with it, but there wasn’t any available. Regular ketchup pushed the allowable sodium limits too high, so it was removed.

Signs were posted to explain, but this didn’t set too well with the parents, who “flooded the Anderson County Schools’ office and The Anderson News with questions,” Spillman writes.

“They’re micromanaging our children,” Paul Coffey, who has grandchildren in the schools, told Spillman. “A parent knows what’s good for their child and ketchup is not going to hurt them.”

Low-sodium ketchup packets are 10 calories and contain 25 mg of sodium. Regular ketchup packets are 11 calories and 85 mg of sodium, Spillman reports.A teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg. of sodium, according to the American Heart Association. It adds up quickly, with all the added salt in processed foods, so lunches and breakfasts for middle-school students are supposed to have less than 1,360 mg and 600 mg, respectively. Limits for elementary- and high-school students are slightly lower and higher, respectively.

“A lot people don’t realize how it’s this complicated to feed kids,” Fields told Spillman. There were rumors that the schools wouldn’t let students bring their own lunches or condiments. “We’d never ban that,” Fields said. “Kids are always welcome to bring their own lunches and condiments.”

Meanwhile, Allen County reports “promising statistics” in after its elementary and middle schools joined the free-meal program offered by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rachel Herrington reports for The Citizen-Times of Scottsville.

Of the 1,600 students enrolled in both centers, 95 percent are eating breakfast this year, compared to around 60 percent last year, Food Services Director Mary Hobdy told Herrington.

Hobdy said unclaimed breakfast food does not go to waste. Non-perishable foods are kept in elementary classrooms for students to eat during breaks, and are placed in the Family Resource Center for middle-school students who need extra food during the day. Leftover food is donated to the center’s backpack program, which sends easy-to-prepare food home with needy kids on Fridays.

Students in Allen County are allowed to refuse meals if they have eaten breakfast or have brought their lunch.

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