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MUSD lunches exceed higher standard

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Maria Rodriquez serves pizza as part of the lunch for Nile Garden School sixth graders.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin/

POSTED May 17, 2017 1:03 a.m.

There’s no crying over fat free chocolate milk in Manteca Unified schools.
In fact, there is no deep frying, excessive sodium or problems with 100 percent whole grain rich requirements.
The decision by the Trump Administration earlier this month to relax the Healthy Hungry Kids Act of 2010 for school lunches and breakfasts won’t change a thing.
That’s because unlike many districts across the country that contend the healthier food and nutrition standards were forcing cafeteria operations to lose money, reduce student participation and generate more tossed food, Manteca Unified nutritional services does more than break even financially, has increased student participation since the rules were implemented, and less food is going to waste.
“Currently there is no difficulty in meeting the 100 percent whole grain rich requirements and we are already exceeding the Target 1 guidelines for sodium,” noted Patty Page who serves as the Manteca Unified Director of Nutritional Services. “MUSD students seem to have adjusted to the fat free cholate milk so as this time there is no intention of going to 15-favored milk.”
As for the ruckus that led for relaxing the rule about eliminating fried food, MUSD hasn’t had a deep fryer for 15 years.
There is one advantage in the rule relaxations out of Washington. The Trump administration isn’t as strict about vegetable subgroups in particular when it comes to dark green vegetables. That means Romaine lettuce that is popular with students can be used more frequently substituting at times for broccoli that is not as high up the favorite list and consequently gets tossed more often into the orange food waste cart.
Page noted most of the concerns school districts have with the federal rules aren’t as much as an issue in California as the state has more aggressive school food standards.
Even so, Manteca Unified has been repeatedly recognized for being on the forefront of serving healthier and more nutritious meals. In 2011, a dish known as Central Valley Harvest Bake was among the top three winners in a national school cafeteria competition conducted by then First Lady Michelle Obama.
It is the end result of the district philosophy that nutritional services are an equal partner in the educational process. And it’s not just simply a matter of hungry students being unable to concentrate.
Manteca Unified for years has worked to proactively educate students about nutrition. When they roll out new dishes, they subject them first to student taste tests. They use the feedback to tweak the dish.
The result is students at Manteca Unified eagerly eat dishes such as the Central Valley Harvest Bake that elsewhere would likely be tossed into food waste. It would be almost implausible to believe youth would devour side dishes such as the Central Valley Harvest Bake made with valley grown butternut squash, jalapeño and red peppers, black beans, red quinoa, plus granola — but they do in Manteca Unified cafeterias.
The fact Manteca Unified food is not only nutritious but tasty has been verified from some critics harsher than kids — parents that doubt school food meets their standards.
Page noted one parent who is a dedicated vegetarian questioned the quality of what was being served. She invited him to have lunch at his child’s school. His reaction mirrored what other parents that have taken similar taste tests said — the food being served is of high quality and taste.
Page said she is appreciative when principals allow parents to try cafeteria food so they can find out firsthand what is being served their children.
And when it comes to fat free milk, Page said it is definitely an acquired taste. She added students have grown to accept it. Standard chocolate milk has a significant amount of added sugar.
 Back in 2010 when the new rules were first rolled out and Manteca Unified was will on the way to meeting them, they served lunch 12,402 students on an average day. The average district enrollment was 23,279.
This school year with 24,233 students attending on any given day, 13,489 lunches are served on a typical day. There are 954 more students today than in 2010 districtwide while 1,089 more are opting for school lunch. And that’s with Manteca Unified school lunches becoming even healthier.
There is one rule, though, that Page would appreciate a little leeway. It deals with fruit requirements at breakfast for a half a cup of fruit. Having the ability to serve natural juice more often would cut down on waste. And it’s not because students don’t like fresh fruit. They do. Many find it difficult — especially younger kids — to either peel or eat them.
Page said nutritional service workers noticed younger kids were tossing oranges without touching them. They figured out it was because they had difficulty trying to peel them.
They switched to smaller oranges such as those marketed by Halos. Peeling was much easier and food waste plummeted.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email 

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