If you’re a parent of a child in Seattle Public Schools, you may have noticed some changes in the breakfast and lunch menus over the last few years. In 2005, changes were made to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which all schools through the National School Lunch Program must follow, according to the School Nutrition Association.
Some of the main changes involved switching to whole-grain breads, using foods and condiments with less sodium and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the menu. Seattle Public Schools’ administrative dietician, Wendy Weyer, elaborated on some of the changes the school district has made to its menus in order to comply with these recommendations.
One of the first changes they made was switching their bread to whole-grain. According to Weyer, in previous years the schools used a sliced caramel-colored bread, which the district decided to change to 100-percent whole-wheat. This change cost the district about 50 cents more per loaf, and the schools go through about 40,000 loaves of bread each year. This one change alone increased their overall cost by about $20,000.
Weyer added that because of the increased cost of changing the menu, the school district has been implementing changes over the years to decide what works best for the students and still be cost-eff ective.
“We look at diff erent strategies,” Weyer said. “Each new change brings a new cost.”
One of the next big changes will be to eliminate trans fat from the menu. The schools are now adapting their menu items to be made with margarine, so that when the time comes to change to trans fat-free margarine, the recipes will already be adjusted to using margarine, and they can just make the switch.
The school district do is working to increase the students’ intake of fruits and vegetables, Weyer said. When they first started making changes to the menu in 2004 through 2006, the schools off ered four to seven diff erent fruits and vegetables.
“We couldn’t keep up with that,” Weyer admitted, so the schools now off er three to four diff erent varieties, and they do their best to use locally grown produce.
The district uses “Harvest of the Month” in which one local produce is used and incorporated into diff erent dishes or just served fresh. In May it was rhubarb from Puyallup, and this month it’s cherries.
The schools have gotten creative with how they serve the fruits and vegetables, too. This month, the cherries have been added into a dried-fruit breakfast bar.
Up until this current school year, the printed school menus were sent home with the kids. According to Weyer, the back of the menu was used as a communication tool to let parents know about any changes they made to the menu. In December they would also send home a whole listing of changes. This year, however, the district posted its menu on-line. Now the calendar has about two or three pages of any major changes that were or may be made during the year.
The schools even scaled down the portions of some of the favorite dishes, so that the same recipes could be used at home.
A committee looks at diff erent nutrition when adding new menu items, such as the number of calories, fat content, sodium and sugar levels. Even condiments are looked at for a way to reduce sodium and sugar.
Committee members also do their best to stay away from common allergens like peanuts, Weyer said. If possible, they will choose items that come from a facility that doesn’t use peanuts.
According to Weyer, Dairygold approached the district about creating a new yogurt that was gluten-and gelatin-free. “If they found a yogurt that fit this profile, it would have a wide application,” she said. In the past, many would stay away from yogurt because of those allergies, but with the new formula, many students would have this option available.
Seattle Public Schools serves about 19,000 meals a day and about 4 million over the course of the school year. More information about the district’s menu and nutrition information can be found at www.seattleschools.org/area/nutrition-svc/ index. html.