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New nutrition standards positive changes for WDC students

Photo by Dana Pavek/WDC Schools Wadena-Deer Creek Food Services staff Darla Hayes, left, and Ronda Schmitz serve lunch to high school students at M State.

The new nutrition guidelines for school meals is great news for Wadena-Deer Creek School students.

In late January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. They include offering fruits and vegetables every day, increasing whole grain-rich foods, offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties and serving proper portion sizes.

The new standards result from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. The new meal requirements are the first major changes in more than 15 years, and focus on improving the health and nutrition of American school children.

For the first time, there will be a set standard of minimum and maximum calories allowed per meal. The nutritional standards will change nutrient-based, like the amount of carbs or sodium, to food-based, such as specific servings of meat and vegetables.

While schools are now required to phase in the nutrition standards over the next three years, WDC Food Services Director Sandie Rentz said Wadena Deer Creek School District has already implemented the majority of the new nutrition standards, such as:

• Serving fresh fruits and vegetables every day

• Switching to 1 percent or fat-free milk

• Sandwiches served on whole-wheat bread

• Introducing lower-sodium entrees

• Offering salads every day with vitamin-packed romaine/spring mix lettuce

• Serving milk, water and 100 percent fruit juices

• Serving baked sweet-potato fries (instead of French fries)

Over the next few months, Rentz and the food services staff will be building on the progress they've made and planning menus for the 2012-13 school year to meet the new nutrition guidelines.

"We know how important it is to encourage students to accept and consume these healthier options. Our school nutrition staff has found great ways to get students excited about healthy food choices and we'll continue to work on creative solutions to ensure healthy foods appeal to students," said Rentz.

One program that is helping WDC Food Services attain the new guidelines is the Farm-to School program, which brings fresh, local produce into the cafeteria and teaches students about what foods are grown in their communities.

Aside from offering a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables to students each day at lunch, elementary students are given free fresh fruits and vegetables as a daily afternoon snack to encourage them to try something new. Thanks to Rentz for submitting an application for a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant, the afternoon fruits and veggies program is in its third year and this successful program is popular with staff, students and parents.

Rentz admitted the new nutrition standards will offer some challenges to meet all the requirements on a tight budget, but she feels WDC's school nutrition program will work hard to make these healthy changes for WDC students.

"We hope parents will support this effort by encouraging their students to give the healthier meals a try. Students are far more likely to pick up a fruit or vegetable in the lunch line if they have been introduced to those foods at home," said Rentz.

In response to USDA allowing schools to count "pizza as a vegetable," Rentz said WDC School District doesn't count the tomato sauce on their pizza as a vegetable. "We serve a variety of vegetables and fruits that we encourage students to take with their meals," said Rentz.

WDC's Food Service staff is trained annually on civil rights, blood-borne pathogens, and offer vs. serve. Each year, all food service staff members are required to earn continuing education classes in food safety, nutrition, sanitation and/or communications. In addition, Rentz said 47 percent of staff are certified level 3 or higher by National School Nutrition Services. This requires 150 hours of initial training and 15 hours continual yearly training. Furthermore, all food service personal are Serve Safe certified.

"At Wadena Deer Creek Schools, we take pride in our Food Service program," said Rentz. "Student nutrition is our utmost objective. We are keenly aware of how good nutritional habits will impact our students the rest of their lives. Our goal is to introduce all students to sound nutrition."