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School lunches served under new regulations (video)

By Carolina Astrain
Sept. 15, 2012 at 4:15 a.m.

Yolanda Mahan fills the warmer tray with sweet potato fries that are baked, not cooked in oil. Other items on the menu Monday were chicken tenders, turkey calzone, mini corn dog, peaches, apples and pears.

The new school lunch menu designed under the "Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010" made its districtwide debut this fall.

Students are now required to load up on more fruits and vegetables on their school lunch trays.

While vegetables and fruits have become more readily available, some students are interested in expanding the selection.

Morgan Castillo was left with more to desire from the steaming spatter of spinach soaked in olive oil on her lunch tray Monday afternoon.

"Some more butter would have been nice," said Morgan, a Victoria East High School student, as she prodded at the steam spinach on her tray. "I wish they had more variety."

The 17-year-old and fellow Titan Fabian Ybarra, 16, mulled over their favorite vegetables between bites in the Victoria East High School cafeteria.

Ybarra suggested adding squash and more tomatoes to the menu.

The act has been strongly supported by first lady Michelle Obama since the beginning of her husband's presidential term. It is aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

Minnie Reyes, food services manager at East High School, said it's been tough getting students to eat healthier, but that sometimes the unexpected happens.

"I've been surprised to find the kids taking the salads," Reyes said. "They like that."

Some students, like Allie Adams, choose to only eat food from the snack line to avoid canned food with possible traces of bisphenol-A - a chemical banned in countries including Canada for the potentially harmful effects on health.

"Green beans have the highest amount of BPA in a can, so I try to buy mine from the farmer's market," Adams said.

The high cost of organic and BPA-free food and beverages isn't affordable considering what the government allocates for public school cafeterias, said Dana Bigham, VISD food nutrition director.

"We can't afford the organic stuff," Bigham said. "That's why we try to stick with as much options as we can."

Bigham said one of the district's vendors is Eden Farms, which is known for its BPA-free can linings.

After this year, VISD will be eligible for a 6 cent increase for reimbursable meals, which are now required to have 1/2 cup of a fruit, vegetable or both, to comply with the new regulations.

School district meals from vendors such as Chick-fil-A, Subway and Papa Johns are not considered reimbursable.

Districtwide, an average of 1,138 meals are purchased daily from the snack line, and 9,062 state-funded, reimbursable meals from the cafeteria.

The profits made from the vendor meals and snack line goes back into the district's main operating budget, said Bigham.

"We use these funds to buy new equipment, tables, ovens and employee salaries," Bigham said.

As of last week, the staff at East High School was short five employees in a cafeteria that calls for at least 19 employees, said Reyes.

The shortage may be casing slow serving lines.

Molly Beahm, 16, said she is lucky if she makes it through the line before the bell rings.

"There are a lot more people here this year," Beahm said. "And way longer lines."



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