Obese or overweight children have been a concern of both parents and the National Institutes of Health for quite a while. It has been such an issue that in some cases vending machines were removed from schools to keep sugary drinks from being consumed by students. Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) has taken a different approach – healthy foods in the lunch room.
During a presentation to the School Board by Warren Grigg, Director of Food and Nutrition Services, and Sandra Stokes, Supervisor of Food Services, the Board was informed of both, a change in calorie count for those who eat breakfast and or lunch, including free or reduced meals, and a shift in the nutrition of meals at school.
The CCPS Federal breakfast and lunch program receives $15.4 million to cover meals for those who can’t afford a nutritious breakfast and lunch to keep them focused through school hours. In addition, CCPS also spends $3.9 million on needed breakfasts and lunches. The non-Federal meal revenues are primarily from sales and the expenditures are primarily from food and labor with $151,580 returned to schools from vending machines alone.
CCPS Food and Nutritional Services provided over 100,800 free or reduced lunches in the 2011-2012 school year and the program has been in existence for 19 years in Chesterfield with little or no Federal assistance.
“We run our program like a business, “Mr. Grigg said. “We don’t want to be a burden on the School Board.” Grigg said schools will spend $1.5 million this year to replace aging equipment such as serving lines. “We don’t want the School Board to have to add that to the bond referendum.”
While the meals are free of Federal and state regulations, the only high schools that are required to offer a free-and-reduced- lunch program due to state law are those whose eligibility is 25 percent or more from feeder schools (middle schools.)
“No one knows if a student is on a reduced or free meal program.” Ms. Stokes said. Students use a debit type card to pay for their meal and parents pay through www.mylunchmoney.com. Those who get a free or reduce meal receive funds on their card through CCPS.
These students and all other students are also provided a more nutritious lunch than ever before. Minimums for meats, grains and fruits meet the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Fruits being served surpass any requirements and have more than doubled at one high school.
While students may shudder at green vegetables, whole wheat bread and brown rice, as well as legumes – red-oranges are also included in their diet. Even humus is served, and all menus are below the 10 percent saturated fat of total calories.
“Everything is whole grain,” Stokes said. “They may not like it at first because it’s not something they eat at home.”
Calorie range limits are well within the limit as stated by regulations in at least two schools in the county. Generally, elementary schools consume 550-650 calories a day; middle school students, 600-700 and Chesterfield Community High School can consume as much as 750-850 a day. An increase in purchases of fruits and vegetables has increased 254 percent over the previous school year.
Since 2005, calories have been reduced by three percent at elementary schools and almost 16 percent in middle school. Saturated fat has been reduced by 10 percent and there has been a 15 percent drop in saturated fat in elementary school meals while middle school meals have dropped by over 20 percent in elementary schools meals.
Free or reduced breakfast and lunch has increased generally 10 percent and lunch has remained basically steady over the last year.
“The reason for the increase is due to the economy,” Grigg said. “But out of those who we think need it [help paying for meals] only about 60 percent end up taking advantage of it.”