Dublin Villager

Schools hope less-strict USDA guidelines would mean more diners

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Dublin City School District officials are hoping some changes to USDA rules will bring diners back into the lunchroom.

At the beginning of the 2012 school year, the district had to adjust meals to new guidelines from the USDA that included limits on the servings of grains and protein that could be provided in the lunchroom.

"The Healthy Hunger Free Act put out through the USDA in 2010 graduated to the point where at the beginning of this school year the act limited the amount of bread and proteins we could offer on a daily basis," said Brian Hunt, district food services director.

"We've always had a minimum, but never a maximum. What happened was it restricted us on the portion size in bread and proteins."

A restriction on grains and proteins meant the schools could no longer offer student favorites such as burgers and chicken sandwiches in the lunchroom every day.

Backlash on the new rules was felt across the country, Hunt said.

"The reaction was pretty much nationwide to the limitations by the students," he said.

"We were no different than what appears to be schools across the U.S. in terms of reaction."

Lunchroom sales decreased, Hunt said, and the USDA listened to students and loosened rules.

"The USDA heard that message from students and directors and lobbying groups," he said.

"They changed that ruling to go back to what it was prior to the school year. We have minimums, but no maximums."

The loosened guidelines are in place for the rest of the school year and the 2013-14 school year, but beyond that Hunt doesn't know what will happen.

"We never really know what it will look like from year to year," he said. "They can change (guidelines) at any point."

Guidelines that require school meals to include at least a half cup of fruit or vegetables will remain in place, although that rule didn't change much in Dublin schools, Hunt said.

"We've always had fresh fruits and vegetables," he said. "We have no intention to change that.

"Had we not been progressive, (the USDA guidelines) may have made things different for students, but we've always been on the healthy side of things."

Students should notice the changes in the lunchroom that will mean a return of favorites and larger servings of grains such as bread, rolls, pasta and rice, very soon, Hunt said.

"Our message to students is come back and give us a look and see the offerings that were their favorites," he said.

"We're changing things as quickly as we can."

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