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MUSD already meets or exceeds new standards
Students in Manteca Unified have the option of accessing the salad bar that includes fresh fruits and vegetables. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The first overhaul of federal school lunch program rules in 15 years is being heralded as a major nutritional breakthrough for America’s school-age children.

 But for Manteca Unified School District it’s nothing new. They’ve been meeting and exceeding the new nutritional guidelines for years.

“It’s nothing new for us,” said Patty Page, Manteca Unified Director of Nutritional Services just hours after the new 280-page guidelines were released to much fanfare in an Alexandria, Va., school cafeteria. It was where First Lady Michelle Obama and Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new standards. They were joined by celebrity chef Rachel Ray. The three then joined students to lunch on a menu featuring Ray’s creations - turkey tacos with brown rice, black beans, corn salad, and fruit.

Manteca Unified is already serving students meals with less sodium, more whole grains and a wide selection of fruits and vegetables as delineated in the guidelines.

The one big change will require students to only reject one food item they are offered as long as it is not an entrée. That shouldn’t pose a problem for Manteca Unified. while most districts offer just one entrée and maybe two at lunch, Manteca Unified typically offers four or five.

And since food service staff takes great care to track what every individual site tends  to favor they can pretty much dial in the amount of specific entries without having excess leftover food - or coming up short.

“The food service staff does an amazing job when it comes to creating and serving nutritional dishes and offering students a lot of choices,” Page said.

The new milk rules demonstrate just how far Manteca Unified is ahead of the new rules that go into effect July 1 nationwide.

The standards have been changed to require milk to be non-fat and flavored milk to be non-fat. Not only is that already the case in Manteca Unified, but food services found a dairy supplier that offer flavored milk such as chocolate and strawberry with even less calories.

While many schools are improving meals already, others still serve children meals high in fat, salt and calories. The guidelines are designed to combat childhood obesity and are based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in an Associated Press report. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria.”The subsidized meals that would fall under the guidelines are served as free and low-cost meals to low-income children and long have been subject to government nutrition standards. The 2010 law will extend, for the first time, nutrition standards to other foods sold in schools that aren’t subsidized by the federal government. That includes “a la carte” foods on the lunch line and snacks in vending machines.

Those standards, while expected to be similar, will be written separately and have not yet been proposed by the department.