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Districts get an education in nutrition

Updated school food rules arriving this fall at a cafeteria near you

Foods grown by Saratoga County farmers on the way to cafeterias in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards. Submitted photo.

Foods grown by Saratoga County farmers on the way to cafeterias in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards. Submitted photo.

— Foods grown by Saratoga County farmers on the way to cafeterias in the Saratoga Springs City School District. Districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards.

School districts across the country are integrating new food rules based on federal nutrition standards introduced by First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak back in January.

The standards, which hadn’t been updated in 15 years, are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies and are “expected to enhance the diet and health of school children and help mitigate the childhood obesity threat,” according to the USDA.

A statement from the Saratoga Springs City School District said that the new rules include; age-appropriate calorie limits, larger servings of vegetables and fruits, a wider variety of vegetables (including legumes), fat-free or 1 percent milk, more whole grains and less sodium.

Margaret Sullivan, school lunch program director for the district, said that the overall goal is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in school meals, especially bean dishes.

“It’s not easy, because kids aren’t always big fans of beans,” she said. She also said the focus on beans is because they’re high in protein and very nutrient dense.

The district will have a leg up when it comes to integrating some of those new rules because many of those healthy guidelines are already in place.

For nearly a decade, items such as hot dogs, french fries and nacho sauce have been absent from cafeteria menus because the district wanted to “set a better example” for students.

“We just felt it was the right thing to do,” said Sullivan. “In addition to that (the new guidelines), we’ve been working for several years to move to more whole foods and less highly processed foods. … Now we’re ready to step up to the federal guidelines as they’re exactly prescribed, which is quite extensive.”

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