Under a new federal law, the pizza sticks, hot dogs and tater tots will no longer be available in lunches served by Collinsville school district. Instead, the students will be served whole wheat spaghetti, chef salads and baked sweet potato fries.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires school districts to provide students with meals that contain a daily serving of a fruit or vegetable, whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, and baked foods instead of fried. Whole milk and 2 percent milk can no longer be offered — only non-fat and low-fat milk is allowable. And the act, which went into effect July 1, mandates specific limits on saturated fat content.
But parents and school officials are hoping that the students don't notice the changes.
Collinsville school district food services director Linda Franklin said she began implementing the changes during the last school year. Franklin said the district starting doing things like making its pizza with whole wheat crust and offering non-traditional vegetables like refried beans. "That way, the kids could get used to exactly what was going to be mandatory for us to do," Franklin said. "It's better if you don't force it on them. You allow them to ease into it, you will get a better reaction to the kids."
Collinsville resident Tina Devor has a third-grader and a fifth-grader in the school district.
"I think it's a good idea," she said. "My kids don't notice between the regular and the wheat. If it doesn't affect the taste so much, I don't think the kids are going to notice."
Franklin said making the new healthier menu attractive is important not only for the health benefits, but it also impacts the district's finances. The school district's food service department is contracted out to Sodexo, a national company that provides food and facility management services. Under its three-year contract with the district, the company receives $2.36 per every meal counted, according to school district business director Uta Robison. Six cents of that fee will come from the federal government for reimbursement of implementing the healthier food changes.
"It's going to be more costly if you buy whole wheat flour, which has a tendency to cost more than just plain flour for example," Robison said.
Franklin said she and her staff have received training on the new dietary guidelines from both her employer, Sodexo, and the Illinois State Board of Education, which is implementing the federal program.
"We need to provide the state our menu," she said. "They will come down and audit us and if district meets all guidelines, the district will get reimbursed under program."
She said that means her staff is required to monitor what the students are putting on their tray. The new law requires that every student is served with a fruit or vegetable.
"Fruits and vegetables is something we've always offered, but now the kids have to take it," Franklin said. "They have to put it on their tray, they have to come through the line with a half-cup of a fruit or a vegetable; in the high school, it's one cup."
Franklin said the cashiers are required to check meal content and tally what is called a "meal count." According to Robison, 78,389 meals were served in April, the last full month of school. There are more than 6,000 students in the district, with 60 percent of them receiving free lunch and 7.5 percent receiving reduced-price lunches. Only 32 percent pay the full price for lunch.
Jodi Juenger said her two children, a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader, purchase their lunches 90 percent of the time. As a registered nurse, she thinks the healthier lunch menu is a good idea. And she's not worried that her kids may not like the food.
"It should be the responsibility of the parents to actually know what's on the menu," Juenger said. "Maybe the days that their child might not like something, they can send a packed lunch."
Contact reporter Ramona C. Sanders at 618-344-0264, ext. 136