JSD nutrition program to improve, breakfast initiatives lacking

Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nutrition in meals served at Juneau schools could be improving under a proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meanwhile other initiatives, like the School Breakfast Program, are slow to gain a following.

MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire
MICHAEL PENN / Juneau Empire

The USDA has issued new guidelines that will affect all federally-subsidized foods sold at schools. The guidelines limit calories, sodium, and fats while pumping up fruits, non-starchy vegetables and whole grains.

“The greatest change in breakfast foods is the increase in fruits, which doubles from the current requirement,” the regulation states. “In addition, grains increase by nearly 80 percent over current levels, with a shift to whole grains. For lunch, the greatest change is the increase in fruits and vegetables, an increase of nearly four half-cup servings a week.”

The regulations are seeing their first major overhaul in 15 years.

Juneau School District food services director Adrianne Schwartz said the district has been anticipating changes for the past couple years, and she’s glad to see the federal government “raising the bar.”

Schwartz isn’t sure yet what the financial impact of the regulations will be on the district, which contracts the food service with Nana Management Services. She does anticipate a cost increase but doesn’t think there will be a significant impact.

“We follow the nutrient standard meal policy,” Schwartz said. “We don’t feel like its going to impact us significantly. We’re already striving to provide as much whole grains and fruits and vegetables as we can.”

Schwartz said the guidelines will likely go into place in 2011-2012, with implementation starting the fall of the 2013 school year.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Food Research and Action Center shows Alaska students are in the bottom 10 nationwide for participation in the School Breakfast Program, compared to those who participate in the Free and Reduced Lunch program.

The School Breakfast Scorecard shows only 38 percent of those eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch participate in breakfast.

The School Breakfast Program is intended to not only support students’ nutritional needs, but studies also have shown those who eat breakfast right before school starts perform better on tests and are more alert throughout the day.

According to a 2009 Alaska Department of Education and Early Development report, 22 percent of students eating lunch are participating in Free and Reduced Lunch — 1,080 students.

Breakfast is being offered nearly district-wide, starting this year. In prior years, the only schools who offered breakfast were those with a volunteer program. Six schools are being served breakfast through Nana Management — Yaakoosge Daakahidi, Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas high schools, along with Auke Bay, Harborview and Mendenhall River elementaries.

All other schools, except the Juneau Charter School, have a community volunteer-based breakfast program. The charter school does not have a program.

“That has started out a little bit slow this year,” Schwartz said. “We have 10 participants at Auke Bay, 35 at Mendenhall River and Harborview. We have not done a lot to market that program. I think once parents become aware of the program at those schools, more will participate.”

The district serves an average of 1,500 lunches per day.

In December, with 13 days of operation, it served a total of 20,163 lunches. Of those more than 20,000 meals served, 9,462 were to students that were paying for the meal, 9,070 to students receiving a free meal and 1,631 received a reduced price meal. The district also served 109 adults.

In November, with 18 days of operation, 26,224 meals were served. Of those, 12,372 were paid meals, 11,543 were free meals, and 2,309 were reduced price. There were 168 adult meals.

There is a daily average of 105 students participating in the district-offered breakfast program. Schwartz does not have data on the volunteer breakfast programs.

Nationwide, the demand for low-income meals has been increasing. In 2009-2010, the National School Lunch Program had nearly 20 million low-income children using the program per day — an increase of 1.2 million more than the prior school year.

Schwartz said according to data from the end of October, JSD has 975 students that qualify for free meals and 203 who qualify for reduced.

For more information on the School Breakfast Scorecard go to www.frac.org.

For more information on the new nutritional guidelines, go to http://bit.ly/ibHd2Z

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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