Janna Kelley OSU Extension Educator
The Ada News
School meals are getting a major overhaul this fall, and the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is helping school districts in the state prepare for the changes.
Extension is partnering with the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Child Nutrition Programs, to assist school meal professionals in planning and preparing for new federal school meal guidelines set to go into effect with the 2012-13 academic year.
The partnership meets both groups’ common mission of improving the health of Oklahoma youth by increasing access to healthy, affordable food.
Because the standards are more focused than ever on providing nutritionally sound meals to school children, it just highlights the important roles school breakfasts and lunches play in helping kids learn, grow and perform to their fullest potential.
With each of the state’s 548 school districts allowed to send two individuals to one of 26 workshops scheduled now through May 25, the effort could draw more than 1,000 school meal professionals from public schools, charter schools and residential childcare institutions.
A group of 28 family and consumer sciences educators from Extension will lead the day to day-and-a-half-long training sessions taking place at various locations throughout the state.
This fall will signal the start of a three-year process of phasing in modifications to the entire school meal program that will affect all children in grades kindergarten and above nationwide.
In the 2012-13 school year, federal policy revisions will focus on enhancing lunches. Students will be treated to increased daily servings of fruits and vegetables, plus a greater variety of vegetables each week, including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas, starchy and other vegetables. In addition, students may choose either flavored and unflavored fat-free milk or unflavored low-fat milk and will have a greater selection of whole grains.
Changes to the school breakfast meal standards will be made in the 2013-14 academic year, including increasing the quantities of fruit and whole grains.
Over a three-year period, the revamped schools' meals will meet dietary standards for age-appropriate calorie minimums and maximums, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
Thanks to the updated guidelines, schools are empowered to provide nutritionally appropriate meals for kids throughout our state.
Beyond giving young Oklahomans the fuel to do their best in class and extracurricular activities, the better balanced meals will help the state address two significant concerns – childhood obesity and food insecurity.
About 30 percent of the nation’s youth are obese, leaving them at risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. There also are a lot of children going to bed hungry because their families could not afford to put meals on the table every night.
Consider that about 65 percent of Oklahoma students are eligible for free or reduced priced meals. Each day, 433,928 students in the state enjoy school lunches, and 227,415 eat breakfast at school.
Schools are an important source of nutritious food for kids across Oklahoma. Now we have standards that help us control calories, sodium, fat and other elements that contribute to obesity; however, they also help assure that those kids who are missing meals at home are getting enough at school.