New USDA food regs provide healthier choice

By Doreen Tyler

MarySandren-USDAWhen Mary (Mickelson) Sangren was a student at Leavenworth and Sleepy Eye Public School in the 60’s and 70’s, lunch was pretty much the standard school lunch of the time – meat, potato, veggies, and dessert, with an option to grab a peanut butter sandwich if desired. The thing was that, pretty much as long as a student was fed, that was all the requirement lunch programs needed to meet.

Wow, things have certainly changed.

Beginning this school year, for the first time in 15 years, new USDA food regulations are being put into place in schools across the nation, regulations that will ensure that students receive healthy meals chock full of all things that are super-good for them to eat.

At Sleepy Eye Public, Mary, a 1976 SEPS graduate, is playing a key role in implementing USDA school meal requirements. See, Mary is a food service specialist with Taher School Lunch Management Services, the company the school district has contracted with to manage the school’s food service program.

A 31 year-old business, Taher is a food management service that boasts a clientele list of 117 schools districts and charter schools in ten Midwest states including Minnesota. Mary has worked with the company for 17 years.

Sleepy Eye ONLINE met with Mary last week to talk about the new regulations and what they mean for students. We also got the chance to look over what a new typical school lunch will look like with the new regulations.

Put simply, the new typical school lunch looks delicious. On the tray line, students will be tempted by fresh, colorful fruits and veggies that are guaranteed to please, along with wholesome whole grain, dairy and protein options.

In talking with Mary and in seeing the food choices students have, it’s clear to see that students are certainly being offered a great variety of meals that are heavy on fruits and veggies, and that’s kind of
the point.

“We want to encourage students to make half sure their plate is filled with fruits and vegetables,” Mary said. “The whole grains we offer need to be at least
51% whole grain. And we making sure students get good quality food that’s made from scratch, not heated and served.”

Mary said the new school meal requirements will by no means be boring. In addition to modified favorites like pizza and Sloppy Joes, a variety of ethnic dishes will be served, like the Asian noodle bowl served on Thursday. In addition, Mary named other

potential ethnic entrees such as Tex-Mex pulled pork, Moroccan Chicken, General Tso chicken and something Peruvian.

“(With the new school lunch requirements) the hope is to get younger students in the habit of eating healthy by offering them more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” Mary explained. “Having healthy eating habits will follow them through school and give them the skills they need to choose healthy food outside of school.” .