Salt shakers have been banned from Idaho’s school cafeterias, fatty fried foods are on their way out and whole grains and veggies are in.
The start of school this year has brought strict new nutrition standards to school food service across Idaho, including an absolute ban on deep-fat frying, salt shakers, sugar packets and unlimited ranch dressing for pouring over the fried stuff.
“I don’t like corn dogs and chicken nuggets anyway,” said Kayla Stan, an eighth-grader at Lakes Magnet Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, who ate the “cheeseburger deluxe” that was the main entree for lunch Tuesday. Think that doesn’t sound healthy? It featured a whole-wheat bun that the school district baked from scratch.
“We’ve had a lot of food service directors say, ‘Thank you, these are changes I’ve been wanting to make,’ ” said Heidi Martin, child nutrition coordinator for the state Department of Education.
Some school districts in Idaho, including Coeur d’Alene, already were following many of the new guidelines; Spokane schools, too, have banished salt shakers and made other healthy changes.
“Most Americans are eating almost twice as much salt as recommended by the dietary guidelines,” Martin said. Idaho sets a standard for sodium, but, she said, “some of our schools are struggling to meet that standard. … When salt shakers are out there and students are putting on their own salt, it’s very hard to accurately manage how much sodium is going into it.”
The state published its guidelines in January to let schools gear up, and they took effect on the first day of school this year, which in Coeur d’Alene was Tuesday.
“The feedback that we have heard has been very positive,” said Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna.
“This is the schools just doing a better job of making sure that the time that the students are in our schools, that they’re getting proper nutrition. … I think it’s overdue.”
Some schools are having to change more than others. A few that still had deep-fat fryers have replaced them with convection ovens, Martin said.
Teachers who still want their salt shakers are being told to keep them in the teachers’ lounge, away from students.
Prefried food such as chicken patties and french fries – popular with young children – aren’t going away completely, but schools can no longer offer them every day. The new limit is three days a week.
“We’re trying to find the right balance between what is healthy and meeting what the kids want,” Martin said. “Some of our schools were baking these products, but they didn’t realize they were prefried.”
A registered dietitian, she compared fries that were prefried to potato wedges that weren’t. The first had 333 calories per 100 grams, while the nonprefried one had 95 calories. Fat content without the prefrying dropped from 19 grams to 2 grams.
In Coeur d’Alene schools this week, kids will get to “taste test” new oven-roasted fries that skip the prefrying, said Ed Ducar, the district’s director of nutrition services.
School cafeteria workers across Idaho have been newly trained in everything from cooking with whole grains to cutting back on sugar in desserts.
School pizza now has whole-wheat crust, and instead of a sugar cookie for dessert, schools might dish up an oatmeal cookie sweetened with fruit.
Said Ducar, “Everybody has bought into this. We really want to be role models for the kids.”