USDA Proposes Healthy Mandate For School Menus This week, the USDA proposed new standards for the nation's school menus. The changes would add more whole grains and more fresh fruit while limiting starchy vegetables and eliminating flavored milk. It's the first time school meal standards have been raised in 15 years. But the changes would pose challenges to many school districts. NPR's Michele Norris talks with Sandy Huisman, director of nutrition services with the Des Moines Public Schools.
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USDA Proposes Healthy Mandate For School Menus

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USDA Proposes Healthy Mandate For School Menus

USDA Proposes Healthy Mandate For School Menus

USDA Proposes Healthy Mandate For School Menus

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This week, the USDA proposed new standards for the nation's school menus. The changes would add more whole grains and more fresh fruit while limiting starchy vegetables and eliminating flavored milk. It's the first time school meal standards have been raised in 15 years. But the changes would pose challenges to many school districts. NPR's Michele Norris talks with Sandy Huisman, director of nutrition services with the Des Moines Public Schools.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Welcome to the program.

SANDY HUISMAN: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: What will these changes mean for you?

HUISMAN: Well, we've been implementing healthy changes for several years now, so it's not as drastic as it might sound. Probably, the biggest changes for us are the requirements to offer additional servings of fruits and vegetables. And then, as you mentioned, the change to restrict the offering of starchy vegetables and focusing more on the dark green, orange vegetables.

NORRIS: You know, I can hear the cries from the backseat from kids listening to this. No more French fries, what is that going to mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUISMAN: We will still be able to offer sweet potato fries, but mashed potatoes, corn are some of our more popular vegetables, and we will need to limit those.

NORRIS: Since you're going to be serving more fruit and more leafy green vegetables, also more orange vegetables...

HUISMAN: Mm-hmm.

NORRIS: ...as you mentioned, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and things like that, does that mean that there will be more fresh fruit and veggies on the menu?

HUISMAN: We will certainly be offering the canned and frozen options. From a cost standpoint as well as a storage standpoint, we will need to rely on those.

NORRIS: That's a big change. How do you meet that new standard?

HUISMAN: It is a very big change. And one of the good things about the legislation is that they're requesting that that happens over 10 years from the point of implementation, which allows several things to happen. Hopefully, manufacturers will get on the bandwagon and start changing the way they're producing items. And hopefully, that will happen not only for items that are produced for school lunch programs, but manufacturers will see the benefit of doing that for all foods that they're offering.

NORRIS: How do you suspect kids will respond? What do you think will be the biggest jolt to their systems - less pizza, whole wheat pizza, no more chocolate milk?

HUISMAN: So it's adjusting to - adjusting their taste buds to the healthier offerings.

NORRIS: Any surprises - things that the kids took to immediately that you thought might not go over so well?

HUISMAN: The chicken nuggets with the reduced fat and the whole grain. And I still go into school buildings and what the kids tell me: Oh, your chicken nuggets are just so good. I love your chicken nuggets.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HUISMAN: So they really did not complain about that change.

NORRIS: Sandy Huisman, thanks so much for talking to us.

HUISMAN: Thank you.

NORRIS: Sandy Huisman is director of food nutrition for the Des Moines Public Schools in Iowa. She was talking about the USDA's proposals for healthier menus at schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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