• Mimi Mahaney-Stalzer is the Aramark food service director for Caledonia Community Schools
  • A full salad bar is one of the many offerings at school cafeterias

Whole Grains Headed to Cafeterias

by Linda Odette  

Everything's baked, everything's good for you, and, next year, everything's going to have to be made with whole grain in school cafeterias.

The changes are a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 which required lunch programs to provide healthier meals to receive federal dollars. The new rules have been phased in over the last two years, with lunches being revamped the first year and breakfasts the second year. A la carte snacks will get a makeover this summer and be introduced to students when school starts in the fall.

Most foods served in schools today are already healthy, with lower salt, fat and sugar than they had previously. Whole grain is the big push in next year's changes. Most breads, rolls, pastas, rice and breading are made with some whole grain already, but by July 1 all of the foods served at school will be whole grain-rich, said Mimi Mahaney-Stalzer, the Aramark Services food service director at Caledonia Community Schools. schools. That includes snacks such as chocolate chip cookies, Pop Tarts and Danish, plus 100 percent of pizza crust. The Food and Drug Administration classifies a food as whole grain if it contains at least 51 percent of whole grain.

"Yes, it will affect the taste," said Mahaney-Stalzer.

Getting students to try new foods isn't easy, Mahaney-Stalzer said. It depends a lot on what parents serve at home. "I truly believe if they were eating whole wheat bread, not white, at home, they'd be just fine with it," she said.

Next year's changes also include the hard-to-swallow beans. Cafeterias will have to have pinto beans, refried beans or lima beans on the menu. Once again, what's going on the students' plates at home enters the picture -- and it's probably not a lot of pinto and lima beans.

Choices on the Caledonia High School menu include panini sandwiches, smoothies, taco bars, enchiladas, soft-serve yogurt, a full salad bar, a deli sandwich bar, hamburgers and much, much more. All those offerings help make the cafeteria look like a spiffy, restaurant cafe. "Presentation is everything," Mahaney-Stalzer said. "Everyone eats with their eyes. If it doesn't look good you're not going to eat it."

Aramark has other ways of getting students to eat their fruits and veggies. The tater tots dished out are a combination of sweet potatoes and regular ones. The salad bar has to offer dark green vegetables, like spinach and romaine lettuce, so they mix those lettuces up with iceberg lettuce. If a student forgets to add a fruit to their tray (a half a cup is required), a bowl of bananas and juice is next to the check-out register to fill that requirement, which went into effect this year. Next year, a half a cup of vegetables will be required in the lunches served.

The healthy school food act changes already made to school menus include serving low-fat dairy products, lean protein, foods with whole grain and fruits and vegetables. Children can decline part of these balanced meals, but they must take at least one serving of fruits or vegetables.Bread products like pretzels will be required to be made from whole grains during the next school year

A goal of the health food act was to tackle the issue of one-third of children today being overweight or obese.

Each year Aramark surveys schools it serves to find out what students like and don't like. It's a difficult task, since filling out a food survey isn't high on the list of things to do for teenagers. This year the company found out if you offer a drawing for an iPad to those who do the survey, the replies go up. The 1,400 surveys turned in from high school and middle school students were 600 more than last year, Mahaney-Stalzer said.

Pizza was the favorite food in the survey and taco bar creations came in second. About half of the students said they didn't eat breakfast, even though 77 percent thought they'd have more energy if they did.

The survey also showed students like things fast. If there were shorter lines, 62 percent of the respondents said it would encourage them to eat more.

"Kids just don't want to spend time in line," Mahaney-Stalzer said. "We do get them through pretty fast, but it's such a social time now. They'd rather be with friends than spending time eating."

She tried addressing the issue this year by letting students order deli sandwiches and salads in the morning so the food would be ready for pickup when they came to the cafeteria. Only about 40 students a day took advantage of this.

"I thought it would take off more," Mahaney-Stalzer said. "It's remembering to do it in the morning."

Schools Want to Opt Out

While the required changes provide for nutritious eating, not all of the nation's schools want them happen. Some school boards have asked Congress to opt out of the regulations because of cost, waste of food and loss of local control over what's served. A proposal being looked at would let schools apply for waivers if they have a monetary loss for six months in a row on their food programs.

"I know some schools in Illinois have dropped out but I don't know of any in Michigan," Mahaney-Stalzer said. "It's sad to drop out, I believe, because you're saying you can't serve healthy food to kids and be successful. I feel I can still run a profitable program with healthy food. I guess time will tell."

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Submitted on: June 24th 2014

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