Part of a balanced meal? Union County parents concerned about school lunches

Union County school nutrition supervisor says photo of lunch doesn't show entire picture

MAYNARDVILLE (WATE) – Parents took to social media Monday with concerns after students were served pretzels as part of their lunch in the cafeteria.

“That’s a snack,” said parent Andrea Dyer. “I don’t feed my children pretzels for supper. I don’t want them fed pretzels at school.”

After hearing from several parents, WATE 6 On Your Side took concerns over school lunches to Union County School administrators. The county’s school nutrition supervisor said while there were more options available to students, the pretzels were part of a balanced meal.

“Those pretzels were whole grain enriched pretzels. Each pretzel was a one ounce grain equivalent. High schoolers were offered to take two and then cheese dip that the kids were offered was a meat alternate.,” said Mary Effler, school nutrition supervisor for Union County Schools.

school-lunch2
Sample school lunch (Union County High School)

Union County Schools says its cafeterias are required by the USDA to offer fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy every day, but they can’t force kids to take all five components. They said on the day pretzels and cheese dip were served there was also chicken lo mien and an option the kids have every day, a bagged school lunch which includes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, string cheese, an apple and gold fish.

“The reality of the situation was, the student didn’t select everything that was offered to them,” said Eddie Graham, Director of Health and Human Resources at Union County Schools.

Effler said the picture posted to social media Monday was not an accurate account of what was offered to students at the high school. She said the picture did have the minimum three components students are required to take, however the student had the option of not only another entree choice, but was also allowed to take another half cup serving of a vegetable and a cup of fruit and milk that was not pictured.

“There are always some go to favorites on the school lunch menu. The beginning of school is a time to also bring new items to the mix. Taste tests of new items have been done in the past when trying to bring in new items,” said Effler. “We as school nutrition staff strive to provide nutritionally balanced meals, while also taking into consideration the likes of students. This can be a complicated task when there are so many guidelines that we must follow. However, the cafeteria staff in all schools do their best to provide meals that will not only nourish children’s bodies, but that students will enjoy what they are eating, as well.”

The school says the response from students to the meals has been very positive. However, parents like Dyer said they’re still not convinced.

Dyer said she thinks pretzels need to stay at snack time. “Find something else other than a pretzel to offer them as a main entree for their lunch,” she said.

USDA requirements for school lunches

it-takes-fiveNutrition standards set forth by the USDA require schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free and low-fat milk in schools. They also require schools to reduce levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals, as well as meet calorie requirements.

Union County Schools also says they operate under “Offer versus Serve,” a program that allows students to decline food they don’t intend to eat in order to cut down on food waste. Administrators said a letter was sent home on the first day of school explaining the program.

Under the guidelines, students must pick at least three components of the five components of a lunch. One of those components must be a half cup of fruit or a vegetable. The USDA encourages students to take all five components for best nutrition.

Nutritional standards for national school lunch and school breakfast programs also are required to meet certain nutritional guidelines based on grade levels. The guidelines are based on the average nutritional levels for a five day week.

Minimum and maximum calorie requirements based on the average for a five-day week

Grades K-5 6-8 9-12
Breakfast 350-500 400-550 450-600
Lunch 550-650 600-700 750-850

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