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Madison school lunches ‘beef’ up after USDA relaxes restrictions

Marty Tatara works as child nutrition program supervisor for Madison City Schools. (CONTRIBUTED)
Marty Tatara works as child nutrition program supervisor for Madison City Schools. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – Students may be arriving home from school without immediately hitting the cookie jar, thanks to an U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy change.

The USDA has permanently loosened its restrictions on the size of portions in a school lunch. Cafeteria workers now can serve larger servings of lean protein and whole grains. The original rules intended to reduce childhood obesity.

The USDA actually made a temporary change for larger portions in the fall of 2012. “This (new) legislation makes the change permanent,” Marty Tatara said. A registered dietician, Tatara works as child nutrition program supervisor for Madison City Schools.

Tatara believes that the USDA’s changes were “absolutely” warranted.

A typical school lunch will no longer have portion restrictions on meats, breads and grains. “They did not change the calorie limits, so the idea they are getting more food isn’t exactly true. This just gives me more flexibility in menu planning, which is a good thing,” Tatara said.

Under the original guidelines, some Madison students complained that they were still hungry after lunch but the situation was not widespread.

Currently, Madison cafeterias serve beef, chicken, pork and fish for protein entrees. Bread, rolls, tortillas, rice and pasta provide the grain serving in a school lunch.

“Next year, all the breads and grains we serve must be whole grain. The current requirement is 50 percent of the breads and grains must be whole grain,” Tatara said.

In addition, new Federal ala carte standards will take effect next year, but the guidelines have not been published. “These new guidelines will impact School Lunch and all other foods sold during the school day in school stores, vending machines and at fundraisers,” Tatara said.

For more information, call 256-464-8370.

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