New lunch menus introduced at Chippewa Valley

By: Robert Guttersohn | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published October 10, 2012

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Normally, talking points at the Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education meetings are reserved for budgetary figures, the purchase of new education materials or union communications.

But at the Oct. 1 meeting, much of the time was spent answering the question, “Why isn’t there pepperoni on the pizza?”

“Calories,” said Cindy VanWormer, the director of food services. “It’s all based on calories.”

VanWormer presented the board with the changes to the federally reimbursed, free-lunch menu — part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

President Barack Obama signed the act into law in 2010, and this is the first school year it is being implemented.

The changes have not been accepted without criticism. They have sparked YouTube video spoof protests from high-school students and filled the front pages of national newspapers.

But VanWormer said to the board the changes will create healthier eating habits, especially among the elementary students. “The older students probably won’t be affected by this,” VanWormer said. “But starting with the younger ones, by the time they get to be seniors, they will have developed healthy eating habits.”

The most notable changes are the new age-based calorie ranges, which is the reason several of Chippewa Valley’s menu options are free of ketchup, ranch dip and other high-calorie condiments.

“But it’s predicated on the number of calories, not because we were trying to be mean.”

Elementary students are allowed 550 to 650 calories per meal, according to the plan. Middle-school students are allowed 600 to 700 calories and high-school students are allowed 750 to 850 calories.

“It was tough trying to meet these calorie counts,” she said. “We were either way short or way over.”

The punishment for the district not following the new guidelines is fiscally severe.

In addition to losing $1.2 million in food-aid reimbursements, the federal government could withhold other federal grants CVS receives, said Scott Sederlund, assistant superintendent for business and operations.

VanWormer said the change will teach students appropriate eating portions that the fast-food industry has distorted. “They are definitely hungry, but they are really eating the calorie range appropriate for their age,” she said. “And that’s the difference.”

In order to help guide the students through the changes, CVS’ serving trays are covered in different colors representing different food groups. They correspond with colors on the menu to ensure the students are getting their fruits, vegetables and proteins.

The district also has to move away from serving white bread. This year, it has to provide students with bread made up of at least 50 percent whole grain. By 2015, the bread has to be 100 percent whole grain.

Despite the complaints some of the board members have received, Board Member Andrew Patzert said the students and parents will get used to the change eventually.

“I think after time, they’ll adjust,” Patzert said. “They need to adjust.”