Wisconsin News

Bigger helpings for new school meal standards

LA CROSSE, Wis.-- The numbers are eye-opening. One in three kids nationwide is considered overweight and La Crosse county is no exception.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced new standards for school meals across the nation, but some of the changes are already happening in the La Crosse School District.

Schools across the nation are supposed to gradually implement the first lady's new standards over the next five years. 


The La Crosse School district actually already started making some changes to its meal options this past September.

With the school year half over, school officials are now working to make sure next year's menu will be even better.

"I think it's a proven fact that if they have a good meal they do better in the classroom," said Shelly Abraham of Harry Spence Elementary.

With nearly 30 years of experience helping kids at Harry Spence get a nutritious meal, Abraham can tell you going through the lunch line isn't what it used to be. 

"They have changed a lot," said Abraham. "It's important that they get the right nutrition and that they get the whole grains. And that they get the low fat milks, the varieties, fruits and vegetables."

It's only been a few weeks since the first lady's announcement of new standards for school meals across the nation but schools in the La Crosse school district already got a head start. 

This year, schools in La Crosse switched to only offering fat-free and low-fat milk. Students also chose from a bigger variety of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains.

More changes are coming next year too and the district's nutrition manager says planning needs to start now.

"Deciding which menu options to offer, what products to purchase, making hand guides for our cooks to utilize when they're serving," said Joni Ralph, the La Crosse School District Nutrition Manager. "A lot of that has to be updated and revised to meet the new serving sizes."

For the 2012-2013 school-year, the new standards require students to get bigger serving portions of those fruits and vegetables, and all grains on the menu will only be whole grains.

It's a do-able challenge, but Ralph says it will be a bit of a balancing act.

"We always say that we want students to want to come in to eat and in order to do that we've got to have great recipes that are flavorful with herbs and different kinds of spices so that we're changing that taste palate," said Ralph.

In addition, schools will also be working to limit intake of sodium, and saturated and trans fats as part of the new school meal standards.

Implementing the new standards is projected to cost about $3.2 billion over the next five years.

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