FALMOUTH — When Falmouth Middle School students return from vacation next week they will no longer rush up to the a la carte line to buy a slice or two of pizza for lunch.
Instead they’ll be encouraged to buy a full meal and load their trays with whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Martha Poliquin, food service director for the School Department, said the improvements are designed to meet new U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for school lunches.
The new federal requirements were announced in late January by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The requirements raise standards for the first time in 15 years and are a key component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama.
The requirements ensure schools make fruits and vegetables available each day; substantially increase offerings of whole grain foods; offer low-fat and fat-free milk; limit calories based on the age of children; and increase their focus on reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium in meals.
Poliquin said changes to the way the middle school serves lunch are based on her observations of how students select food. Instead of buying a full meal with access to the salad bar, students often buy extra pieces of pizza or snack items and skip fruits and vegetables.
“I don’t think we’re doing a service for our students when we make it easy to make those kinds of choices,” she said.
Students will now chose from a selection of six entrees, including a daily special, hot dog, slice of cheese pizza, chicken burger, peanut butter-and-jelly Uncrustable or a made-to-order sandwich. The meal also comes with a salad and milk for $2.50.
The meals average between 600 and 700 calories, down from the previous average of 800 calories.
Poliquin said about 20 percent of middle school students buy school lunch, but she hopes that number will rise as parents and students realize the value of the meal.
Principal Sue Palfrey said students will not be surprised by the changes. During the two weeks before vacation, kitchen employees met with each advisory group to explain the changes and answer student questions.
Kitchen manager Louise Tammaro said she will help ease the transition by placing menus on each table to remind students of lunch options. She will expand the salad bar to include toppings such as cranberries, blueberries and legumes to encourage students to experiment with healthy foods.
Tammaro also tries to introduce students to foods they have never tried before, including legumes and locally grown vegetables. Recently students seemed to like the rutabaga fries they were served with lunch, she said.
The focus on nutrition is nothing new for the middle school, Palfrey said. The school promotes the Let’s Go 5-2-1-0 program, which advocates for five servings of fruit and/or vegetables each day; two hours or less of recreational screen time; one hour of physical activity, and no sugary drinks.
Sixth-grader Charlotte Giordano chooses vegetables from the salad bar during lunch at Falmouth Middle School. Next week the school will implement changes in its lunch program to comply with new regulations announced last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.