What's on the menu for students in the upcoming school year?
According to The Nutrition Group, which will provide school food services for the Warren County School District (WCSD) this year, "One key factor in operating a successful school food service program is to implement menus that offer choices... The main emphasis is to attract and entice students to choose an appealing and nutritionally balanced meal."
The 2013-14 school year will see continued implementation of the Healthy Hungry Free Kids Act of 2010, according to Nutrition.
The changes will mean increased portion size for fruits and vegetables, one potion of which will be required for a meal to qualify as a lunch, as well as an increase in the variety of vegetables to choose from. Daily amounts and variety of whole grains offered will increase, as will reduced sodium choices. An increased focus on fat free and low fat milk offerings will also continue.
"This upcoming school year will continue to be full of dietary changes, but all of the changes are intended to provide a healthier opportunity for lunch," according to Nutrition.
The company is also focused on prices.
School lunch prices are determined based on price equity based on the amount a school district is reimbursed for the cost of free student meals.
According to Nutrition, "The intent of price equity is to charge all paid students the amount being reimbursed to districts for free student meals less any reimbursement that the district receives for a paid student for each meal served."
Essentially a meal's price is determined as the amount reimbursed for a free meal minus the amount of additional reimbursement received to help cover the cost of meals for students who pay for lunch.
In the WCSD, breakfast and lunch will be provided at the same prices as last year, but a la carte prices could see adjustment.
"We are very excited that Nutrition is going to provide, not only meals that adhere to the nutrition guidelines, but that they will also appeal to the pallet of the students," said Jim Grosch, director of business services for the WCSD.
According to the district, breakfast and lunch menus will be available on the district website, www.wcsdpa.org, on a monthly basis. Additionally, elementary students will be provided a lunch menu for each month and middle and high school students may pick up menus in their respective school offices.
At the elementary level, students will be provided with six to seven choices for breakfast and seven to eight for lunch. At the middle and high school levels, students will be provided with six to seven choices for breakfast and 11 to 13 choices for lunch.
"In an effort to provide a well-balanced lunch to so many with various tastes, we provide numerous choices in our schools," according to an informational handout provided by the district. "The Warren County School District school breakfast and lunch program operates an offer-vs-served program... a meal is made up of five healthy components which are protein, vegetable, milk, fruit or juice and bread. This gives your child many choices to tailor his/her meal to their individual taste."
The district notes it can suggest students take fruits and vegetables, but under Pennsylvania law cannot force students to take them.
Children with special dietary needs will be accommodated, according to the district, but must provide a medical statement outlining their needs completed by the student's physician. The district does not consider being a vegetarian a special dietary need but, according to the handout, strives to offer vegetarian selections.
Students may pay for lunches in three ways:
Bringing money to school - Elementary students can bring money with them that will be collected in their homerooms and sent to the cafeteria while middle and high school students can pay for meals at the register in the cafeteria.
By mail - Checks for student meal account funds may be mailed to Warren County School District, 589 Hospital Dr., Suite A, Warren, PA 16365, Attention: Food Service Department.
Online - Parents may make meal account payment, and view their child's account history on a daily basis, through a partnership between the WCSD and www.mylunchmoney.com.
Student cafeteria accounts can be flagged by parents to restrict eating choices by filling out a Cafeteria Account Flag Form available on the district's website.
Students cannot use another student's account. Each student has an assigned cafeteria account.
Students can charge up to $10 on their cafeteria accounts for breakfast and lunch meals. After reaching the $10 limit, students may continue to charge an alternative meal until the account reaches a negative balance of $30. After reaching a $30 negative account balance, students may not be able to receive meals, even if paying in cash, until the balance is paid. A la carte items may not be charged.