St. James avoids much of the controversy

StJamesLogoBy Doug DeDecker


While there has been controversy over new United States Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches in many school districts across the country this fall, the impact of the guidelines adopted at the start of the school year has not been that dramatic in St. James.

High School principal Ted Simon thought the implementation of the new federal guidelines went pretty well at the High School.

“The food service was ahead of the curve,” Simon said when it came to implementing the new guidelines.

In part that’s because Taher School Lunch Management Services, the company that’s providing food services to the school district, has been working the new guidelines into the lunch menu for the past several years.

According to Judy Kovacs, the local Taher Food Service Director, the transition to the guidelines have been happening over the past several years and will continue to be implemented over the next several years, but the brunt of the regulations went into affect this fall.

“This is the fourth year that Taher has been in the schools and we brought with us more fruits and vegetables, we have no trans fats, we have lower sodium and we are going to more whole grain foods,” Kovacs said.

It appears that some school districts across Minnesota and the nation waited until this year to implement the guidelines. Going ‘cold turkey’ so to speak.

In these districts, the sudden shift in the make up of the meals and the portion sizes caused some student bodies to rebel.

Kovacs has heard of some districts where the changes have not been well received. Some schools perviously served meals to students on an ala carte basis.

It’s reasonable to believe there would be students who would rebel when being abruptly transitioned from an all you can eat diet of only what you like to eat to a guideline driven menu that limits selections and portions.

Not that there aren’t some unhappy parents and children in the St. James school system.

One parent told me that her daughter hates fruits and vegetables, doesn’t take a lunch, skips lunch and comes home hungry.

St. James District School Board member Michelle Mohlenbrock said that she had received a call from a parent complaining about portion sizes. Her child was only receiving four chicken nuggets at a serving when the child could eat ten.

Kovacs said a student has the option to purchase more food than the approved portion size, but for some students and parents portion size appears to be an issue.

Kovacs said she’s not had any parents talk to her about portion sizes or the other changes. She’s also not seen a meaningful increase in children buying extra portions this year.

“Portion sizes have changed a little bit, but not dramatically. So all of the controversy about portion sizes seeming so much smaller is not entirely correct,” Kovacs said. Kovacs went on to say that school lunch was never intended to fulfill the caloric requirements of all of the students.

Part of the easier transition that St. James has experienced might be attributed to the proactive steps Kovacs and Taher took at the start of the year. A letter went to the families of all students informing the parents or guardians of the menu changes. Kovacs also made a detailed presentation before a meeting of the St. James School Board.

Principal Simon invited me up for a lunch to assess how the food program was going.

The kids still seem to be walking as fast as they can to get in the lunch line. The children in the lunch line were enthusiastic about the food. The several that I talked to said main courses and the selection of other foods was good.

It was Friday and the meal I chose consisted of a fish sandwich, tater tots, green peas (they looked frozen not canned), three bean salad and a cookie. I can report the meal was good. The high school lunch costs $2.15 for a paying student.

Service was fast, friendly and efficient and with the chance to have as much fruit and vegetables as possible, there was no Mr. Bumble like person serving the food.