Knox County Schools: Relaxed school nutrition rules to have little effect on lunches

Local News

Changes are coming to the school cafeteria as the Trump administration rolls back some regulation on school lunches.

Those regulations go back to the Obama administration. Former first lady Michelle Obama championed the effort to get children moving and eating healthier.

According to the woman in charge of food services for Knox County Schools, there are not going to be a lot of changes. The rollbacks won’t do away with healthier options. It just gives schools more time to reach certain benchmarks.

For instance, the Obama policies gave districts a timeline to reduce sodium in food. The Trump administration gave them a few more years to hit those numbers. The rollbacks also eased up on the rules on whole grains, giving districts the option to go 50 percent whole grain instead of 100 percent.

For the people preparing lunch at Gibbs Middle School, it’s all about the kids.

“It is a little different than something you might get at a restaurant, but it’s a healthier version of what kids get on a regular basis, is what we serve,” said Brett Foster, director of nutrition for Knox County Schools.

Foster explained the menu is not changing much following the relaxed regulations from the federal government. Pizzas will still be on a whole grain crust with low sodium sauce and cheese. The curly fries will still be baked, not fried. Students will still have salad options, along with fruit and vegetable sides.

Those options have been in full swing in Knox County since 2012.

“We had a little bit of push back at first, because it wasn’t something they were used to. We haven’t heard anything recently. Our meal counts have stayed pretty steady. There has been a decline nationwide in meal counts, but our meal counts have stayed pretty steady,” said Foster.

While school districts will now only have to cook 50 percent whole grain, they’ll still have to work toward a lower sodium menu by 2023.

“I do think that overall it helps improve the health of students. That’s paramount. We don’t want to serve junk to them. We want to serve something that’s healthy and nutritious because if they’re well fed, then they learn better,” Foster said.

Foster said the Trump administration’s rollback basically gives them more time to make an even healthier school menu.

“We serve a lot of food that are very typical of what kids have at home. Wwe do that on purpose. That’s what they like. That’s what they see at home. I don’t get a lot of complaints of how terrible school lunch is. I personally don’t think it is. I think that we have a lot of good staff out there doing a good job. They wouldn’t serve anything to these students they wouldn’t serve to their own children,” Foster said.

Foster explained that before the Obama-era policies, there was little oversight on school lunches. They had to provide protein, grain and milk options, and a fruit and vegetable. Now there’s a minimum and maximum calorie intake. The deep fryers are gone and there are a lot of whole grain options.

There have been a lot of comments about the Trump administration bringing chocolate milk back, but chocolate milk never went anywhere. The district did have to go fat free. Under the rollbacks, districts can go for one percent, but Knox County is sticking to what their students are used to.

Knox County serves around 15,000 students at breakfast and more than 35,000 at lunch. Forty-six schools operate under the community eligibility provision, meaning parents pay nothing for their child to eat.

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