It might not be an Iron Chef episode, but new federal lunch standards will certainly test the mettle of the school system's culinary staff.
And officials said they are up to the task and added that students should expect a more substantive - and healthier - menu for the 2012-13 academic year.
"Vernon school cafeterias are meeting tough new federal nutrition standards for school meals, ensuring that meals are healthy and well-balanced and provide students all the nutrition they need to succeed at school," said Food and Nutrition Services Director Monica Pacheco. "Now is a great time to encourage students to choose school meals."
School menus will be offering students milk, fruits and vegetables, proteins and grains, and they must meet strict limits on saturated fat and portion size, Pacheco said.
She said beginning this year, school lunches will meet additional standards requiring:
• Age-appropriate calorie limits.
• Larger servings of vegetables and fruits (students must take at least one serving of produce).
• A wider variety of vegetables, including dark green and red/orange vegetables and legumes.
• Fat-free or 1 percent milk (flavored milk must be fat-free).
• More whole grains.
• Reduced levels of sodium.
Each child must take at least three of the five components (meat or a meat alternate, grain, fruit, vegetable and milk) on his or her tray to make a meal, including a fruit or vegetable, Pacheco said.
"The biggest change is that children must select a fruit or vegetable with lunch every day," she added.
Pacheco said the food service staff is planning its menus to include selections "that we know students like, as well as many different foods they may not have tried before and they just might find a favorite."
She said for example, fresh apples are delivered directly from Johnny Appleseed's Farm in Ellington throughout the fall. A third of the "commodity dollars" the school system gets for participating in federal meal programs is now used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables all year, she said.
To access the menus, visit www.vernonschools.com/districtinfo.html
Pacheco said prices will remain the same - $1.25 for breakfast at elementary schools, $1.50 for breakfast at the middle and high schools. Lunch is $2.25 at the elementary schools, $2.50 at the middle school and $2.75 at the high school.
Reduced price meals are 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch at all schools for those who qualify.
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