Most Kentucky schools adapting well to new federal nutrition rules, USDA official with Kentucky background says

While one Kentucky school district has ditched the federal school-meals program and the money that comes with it, an official of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services says that most Kentucky schools are creatively and successfully implementing the required nutritional requirements.

Fort Thomas Independent Schools dropped out of the program, saying new nutrition rules caused more students to pack lunches or eat off campus. Fort Thomas Highlands High School is the only public school in Kentucky to allow students to leave for lunch, Chris Mayhew reports for the Community Press & Recorder in Campbell County.

Most schools in Kentucky are adapting well to the new rules, Deputy USDA Undersecretary Janey Thornton, former school nutrition director at Hardin County Schools, told the Kentucky School Board Association’s Kentucky School Advocate.

Thornton praised Kentucky schools for their efforts in implementing the new nutrition standards in school meals, saying that many, like Hardin County, had already been moving toward healthier meals before the guidelines were put in place. She said the food service director in Hardin County told her that they had not seen any decrease in meal participation at all.

She said the Harlan County director told her that they had had a rough start, but after engaging the students in the process, like developing the menus and taking them to food shows, students had been more receptive to the changes.

“I’m hearing this all over the country – when kids are engaged, when they feel it is their cafeteria, it makes a huge difference,” Thornton said.

Thornton said introducing fruits and vegetables that students, cooks and managers may have never seen has been a challenge for some districts, but many schools are creatively facing the challenge by offering samples, using high-school students as peer nutrition mentors, working with the Cooperative Extension Service to offer after-school programs and offering smaller portions.

Thornton said “recent studies show there is not greater food waste than previously,” but that doesn’t mean that directors don’t always need to work on decreasing waste. She suggested that maybe a half-cup portion of vegetables could be broken into small bites of three vegetables or fruits to equal one-half cup, not just all of one thing the student doesn’t like.

Asked about the complaints that some students, particularly high schoolers, are going hungry, Thornton said that if the students are eating what is available to them, “the calorie count now is more than the recommended calorie count before this went into effect.”

Thornton noted that a nonpartisan national-security organization of 450 retired admirals and generals has said “We have to do something about how America eats. It is affecting (negatively) those who are trying to get into the military.”

One of the biggest challenges reported across the country is that students don’t have enough time to eat their lunch; it takes longer to eat fresh fruit and vegetables than it does to eat processed food.

“We don’t want to teach kids to inhale foods because that is part of our problem,” Thornton said in the interview. “When you eat so fast, you don’t realize when you are full. This is a challenge not just in Kentucky but nationwide.”

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