ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota students will see some changes on their lunch trays when they return to school in a few weeks.
New federal guidelines dictate more fruits and vegetables, smaller portions of meat and protein and fewer calories. That means lunch directors around the country have been testing new lunch tray configurations and brainstorming how to get kids to buy in.
St. Paul School District lunch director Jean Ronnei has spent the summer poring over recipes with her staff dietitians. Ronnei told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/O6d7My ) they're looking for meat alternatives, less sodium, no trans fat and controlled portions of meat.
The new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines limit student lunches to 650 calories for younger students, and 850 for those in high school. That means smaller burgers and buns, and skipping the cheese. And lunch line workers won't be able to toss extra bread or rice on students' plates to fill them up.
Cafeteria workers are bracing for calls from parents who say their children are going hungry without enough meat and protein, but Ronnei said students are allowed to eat as many fruits and vegetables as they want.
"Students that come through are going to need to fill up on fruits and vegetables because some of those other items they're used to eating just won't be there," she said.
The new federal rules don't just encourage students to choose healthy fruits and vegetables. They call for it on the plate — half a cup of fruits and vegetables a day for elementary school students, three quarters of a cup for students in grades six through eight and a full cup for high school students.
Schools that do it get a new 6-cent-per-meal reimbursement from the government, and it doesn't matter whether students eat it.
But waste of food is a concern, and the Minnesota Department of Education has been working with school districts this summer on ways to persuade students to eat healthier. Their main strategy: offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
"This year we'll be figuring out which menus work, which foods the kids like," said Debra Lukkonen, supervisor of school nutrition programs for the state Department of Education. "Let's push through this together and by May you'll have a really good menu."
Lukkonen is telling school officials the first year of the new requirements might be tough, with some protests from middle and high-school students.
But Lukkonen was confident younger students, especially those just starting school, won't know lunchtime any other way and will grow into fruit and vegetable lovers.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.