My job title may be “Food Service Director,” but I feel like a high-wire acrobat most days. It’s my responsibility to find the balance between serving healthy, wholesome meals that meet a myriad of federal guidelines that the students will find tasty and delicious and actually eat. After all, I’m in the business of feeding kids, not garbage cans. Still, that’s not easy considering there are more rules and regulations about school lunch than there are in the federal tax code.
I can’t lose my footing or misstep or I may not be able to ensure my department is fiscally solvent and self-supporting — all of my funding comes solely from federal reimbursement and student lunch money. If I need money to balance my books from the district general fund, then I am taking money away from textbooks, teachers and transportation.
All this must be accomplished while being heckled by people in the crowd who still incorrectly believe that school lunch consists of mystery meat swimming in gravy goo and sides of overcooked vegetables and canned, syrupy fruit served by hairnet wearing lunch ladies. (Thanks, Adam Sandler.)
Nutritious, appealing foods
The challenges of finding foods to serve as part of a meal that meet nutrition standards, appeal to a child’s palate and fit our food budget are steep. However, within the challenge is the opportunity for school districts to partner with manufacturing companies and producers to create these new products.
Our district has had great success in meeting these challenges by partnering with several companies and organizations that have enabled our district to serve fresh fruit, items with whole grains and nonfat yogurt every day. Our partnership with Fuel Up to Play 60 enabled us to have fresh vegetable salad bars at every school. Recently, we had the opportunity to partner with our milk supplier.
In March 2010, our school district was at a decision point. A new Ohio law slated for implementation by 2014 would require that all flavored milk sold in schools have 150 or fewer calories — our current flavored milk contained 180 calories. After internally reviewing multiple studies that outlined the decline of overall milk consumption with the removal of flavored milk, and consulting with our district’s health and wellness advisory committee, the city health department and our region’s nutrition council, we understood the importance of keeping a flavored-milk choice available at lunch. With almost 75% of our district’s students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, the dieticians and physicians of these groups were concerned about our students not getting the daily calcium, Vitamin D and other essential nutrients that milk provides.
Formulating flavored milk
With the vision that we need a flavored milk that meets the new Ohio calorie requirement, we asked our milk supplier for a new formulation to meet the regulations. Without this, our alternative would be to pull all flavored milk from our district menus. Lucky for us, Trauth Dairy had its finger on the pulse of the new law and was working on a solution to lower the calories of flavored milk. It presented us with a new formulation. Trauth needed a school district willing to implement the new formulation and provide feedback on acceptance and improvement recommendation. Our two needs complimented each other and our district agreed to be the first school district in Ohio to serve their new product — a 150-calorie, 1% chocolate milk with reduced sugars and no high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The new flavored milk would cost more, but that’s a small price to pay to ensure that students take and consume milk.
From the first day of the school year, our students liked and accepted the new chocolate milk. In fact, our overall milk consumption increased from the previous school year. Additionally, parents were happy (the milk provides their children with needed nutrients), our Department of Education auditors were happy (we met the new regulations ahead of the implementation timeframe) and our Board was satisfied (we did it in a fiscally responsible way).
For this school year, Trauth Dairy offered us the 130-calorie fat-free version of the reduced-sugar, no HFCS chocolate milk. Again, our students readily accepted the change and our milk consumption has again increased.
A cooperative dairy processor
We believe there were key factors in our success with the switch to the reformulated flavored milk. First, our milk supplier was forward thinking and already working on new products to meet new regulations. Second, our milk supplier worked cooperatively with our district and incorporated our feedback and needs into their product development. Third, we phased in the new flavored milks so that the students were accepting of the change. I’m not sure our success would have been as great if we had gone right from the 180 calorie, 1% chocolate milk to the 130 calorie, fat-free version.
I’m looking forward to working cooperatively with our milk supplier again to create a delicious, lower-calorie flavored milk for my students.
Dairy Foods seeks essay from dairy processors. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.