Next year, Miss. schools must meet guidelines for healthier student meals

Published 3:34 am Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beginning in the 2008 school year, Mississippi school districts must meet guidelines for healthier meals for students.

Members of a nutrition committee under a legislative mandate to form healthy food guidelines in public schools have presented a proposal to the state Board of Education.

Regina Ginn, director of the Office of Healthy Schools at the state Department of Education, said the proposals could be modified before March when legislation dictates the guidelines need to be approved.

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Mississippi has already adopted nutrition regulations that include banning colas high in sugar and candy in vending machines.

Stephanie Hoze, food service director in the Hattiesburg School District and a nutrition committee member, said 95 percent of schools are already doing the majority of what the committee has suggested.

Some changes the nutrition committee has proposed:

— Provide healthy food and beverage choices, including a minimum quantity of fruit and vegetables daily and weekly, serving milk with no greater than 2 percent fat and serving juices that are 100 percent juice with no added sugar.

— Limit fried foods whenever possible and practical. Schools could be asked to eventually replace fryers with combination oven-steamers.

— Market healthy food choices to students and staff by getting communities and parents involved and having tasting parties for newly introduced menu items.

— Limit the amount of trans fatty acids and saturated fats that meals have and incorporating whole-grain products into menus.

— Allow children at least 24 minutes to eat lunch and at least 10 minutes to eat breakfast.

— Limit the number of extra items students can purchase after buying lunch, excluding beverages.

The committee has suggested the extra food items don’t exceed 200 calories, and healthy foods will be cheaper than other items.

Lynda Callender, child nutrition director in the Rankin County School District, said her district has more than 60 combination oven-steamers, which can replace fryers, in its 22 schools.

“The only foods we’ve fried at all in the last few years were French fries and fried chicken once a month,” Callender said.

The stipulations are “changes, but it’s not really changes. We’re there. We’ve been trying to do these type of things,” she said.