By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville School District recently became the sixth school district in Mississippi to earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 6 Cent Certification, giving the SSD’s child nutrition program 6 cents for every meal it sells.
SSD Assistant Superintendent Toriano Holloway said he is grateful to SSD child nutrition director Beverly Lowry and all the cafeteria staff who made the certification possible. He said the nutritional improvements to student meals the staff has made in pursuit of the certification are causes for celebration in themselves.
“One of the best outcomes of this 6 Cent Certification is our children will be exposed to healthier meals daily,” Holloway said. “We hope that’s a habit they take home and develop over the course of their lives.”
Lowry said the certification required her department to demonstrate compliance with requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that were in effect at the time of certification. She said the act required a new lunch meal pattern effective July 1, 2012, and it requires changes to the breakfast program and a three-year administrative review cycle beginning July 1, 2013.
“It was important to earn the 6 cents reimbursement as soon as possible to help defer the expense of the new regulations,” Lowry said. “I felt it was very important to start working toward full compliance early so the students would not see major changes throughout the school year. A school district could start earning the reimbursement in October as soon as the state agency could review certification materials and make a determination. It was also important to train Child Nutrition staff prior to the start of school and continue training and working through the challenges as quickly as possible.”
Certification required the SSD to submit one week of menus from each age group across all grades, USDA menu worksheets and a nutritional analysis, Lowry said, but she added in a breakfast menu as well. The USDA was looking for the SSD to comply not only with the federal meal pattern requirements but also with minimum food quantities for meal component requirements, she said, all with appropriate documentation.
“The most challenging part of the regulations for me has been the addition of minimum and maximum requirements to grains and meat (or) meat alternates,” Lowry said. “For example, in grades 9-12, you must have a minimum of 10 grains per week and a maximum of 12 grains per week, and with meat or meat alternate, you must have a minimum of 10 ounces of meat per week and a maximum of 12 ounces of meat per week.”
Lowry said the SSD must also count breading on products such as fried foods toward grain requirements and count cheese as a meat alternate. The changes are difficult with the many choices students have, she said, but for the most part, students have responded well.
“Students often wonder why we might not be having a bread with a certain meal or why the breaded products, such as a spicy chicken sandwich or a fish sandwich, are served on a one-grain bun, which is smaller than the two-grain bun they are used to,” Lowry said. “This is the only way to have some of the popular items without going over the bread maximums.”
Lowry said the next step for SSD’s nutrition department is to continue perfecting recipes that meet the federal act’s requirements. One major change coming up is a requirement for all grains served in SSD schools to be whole grains, she said.
“Any time you have changes this drastic, they can be overwhelming, and it takes time to work out the kinks,” Lowry said. “We continue to work with manufacturers to make sure the new products meet meal patterns and are acceptable to students.”
Holloway said the SSD’s goal is to become 100 percent compliant with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. He said each SSD school also has a Healthy Schools Council he believes will bolster the nutrition department’s efforts.
“Those councils have ... been meeting to have teachers give out healthy snacks and 100 percent juice and water to our kids,” Holloway said. “What we’re planning is to hopefully impact kids who are bringing their lunches to school, to encourage them to also eat healthy.”