Understanding the School Lunch Program

As the U.S. Department of Education has released guidelines for healthy school lunches, these new standards will increase fruit and vegetable offerings; students are now required to have a minimum of ½ cup of fruits or vegetables on the lunch tray. Other recent changes to the guidelines include: milk is low-fat and fat free, more whole grains, establish minimum and maximum calorie levels for meals, set minimum and maximum on grains, and begin to reduce sodium. Many of these changes have already taken place at our schools. Fresh fruits and fresh vegetables are available every day with every lunch. Salad bars have been installed at all schools. The bread, rolls, as well as many types of pasta are at least 51% whole grain. Milk is only 1% low-fat and fat free. The new program also requires the school to offer a different type or sub-group of vegetable each day. The following are the guidelines.

Grades Calories Min. Calories Max. Grains Min. Grains Max.
K-5 550 650 1 oz daily 8 oz weekly
6-8 600 700 1 oz daily 8 oz weekly
9-12 750 850 2 oz daily 10 oz weekly
Grades Protein Min. Protein Max. Fruits
K-8 1 oz daily 10 oz weekly 2.5 cups fruit*
9-12 2 oz daily 12 oz weekly 5 cups fruit*

Weekly vegetable sub-group offered (minimum) requirements:

Once a week (red/orange) - Sweet Potatoes, Acorn, Butternut, Hubbard Squash, Carrot, Red Peppers, Pumpkin, Tomatoes,Tomato Juice
Once a week (dark green) - Broccoli, Spinach, Romaine, Turnip Greens, Kale, Bok Choy, Dark Green Leafy Lettuce
Once a week (beans) - Humus, Chick Peas, Split Peas, Soy, Pinto, Navy, Black, White, Black-Eyed or Kidney Beans, Lentils
Once a week (starchy) - Corn, Green Peas, Potatoes, Water Chestnuts, Lima beans
Once a week (other) - Beets, Asparagus, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumbers, Green Beans, Eggplant, Iceberg Lettuce, Zucchini, Wax Beans, Turnips, Okra, Brussels Sprouts

Weekly vegetable minimum requirement of offered amounts:

Grades K-8 - 3.75 cups of vegetables*
Grades 9-12 - 5 cups of vegetables*

*All students are required to take a minimum of a ½ cup of fruits or vegetables each day

Listed below are some frequently asked questions from parents and community members:

Q- Is everything a student buys in the school cafeteria is a "school lunch"

No,There are two types of purchases offered in the cafeteria.

  1. Foods served through the Federally subsidized National School Lunch Program - the "meal on a tray" - there isa main meal choice,(1stchoice), and an alternative lunch, (second choice). Additionally, all schools will have a salad bar, the salad bar has many fresh vegetables, cheese, egg, chicken, and tuna salad, combined with a whole grain roll and a milk, completes a meal.
  2. If students buy separate items,(a la carte), those items are called "competitive foods" and are not part of the school lunch program.

NOTE: If a student takes an incomplete lunch, it will be charged as a la carte.

Q - Why is the USDA setting new meal patterns and dietary specifications for school meals?

On December 13, 2010, president Obama signed into law Public Law 111-296, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The last update to meal standards was over 15 years ago. In response to advancements and understanding of human nutrition, this act required the USDA to update and reflect the most current dietary science. This comes at a time of need to help combat the epidemic of childhood obesity. If left unanswered, health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Q- Are school lunch meals good for you?

The meals are required to provide 1/3 of the recommended daily allowance of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories. Following the nutritional guidelines outlined above, insures the balance of the five meal components, and is federally monitored as part of the school lunch program.

Q- Do schools serve fried foods?

No, we do not fry foods, and also oil and butter are not used. We baked French fries and sell baked chips. Additionally, no more than 30% of calories are to come from fat, in the meal and 10% from saturated fat. We have zero trans fat in all foods served or available in the cafeteria.

Q- Is the juice served, real juice?

Yes, once a week, as a choice with a tray lunch, a student will be offered a 4 oz juice in place of a ½ cup of fruit. We do suggest choosing whole fruits over juice. If the choice is juice, we serve 100% fruit juice with lunch. Any other product when labeled "ade", "drink" or "punch" will usually contain 10% juice or less. These products will not be served as part of a lunch. These are not available at the elementary schools. At the High School and Middle School, these have been limited to a la carte sales, and some vending machines. We also offer 100% fruit juice pops, with no added sugar.

For a review of these guidelines, please see the Palisades School District Competitive Foods and Beverages Nutritional Standards.

Q- Are School lunches paid for by the Federal Government?

Yes, Partially. The school lunch program receives state and federal subsidies, but it rarely covers the full cost of producing a meal. The total labor, salaries, benefits, supplies, equipment, and overhead account for 68%, and food costs have averaged 41%. The cost of serving lunches continues to increase beyond our revenue. Milk, fruits, vegetables, meat, and bread continue to increase in cost. Realizing we will be adding more fruits and vegetables, for our program to be successful, we need to increase purchase participation. After a student buys a complete lunch, we receive an additional $.26/lunch from the National School Lunch Program.

Average total cost to produce a meal, (including all expenses), in the past school year was $4.93.

Q- Can my child buy anything they want with their lunch money?

Yes, (unless you have it restricted). Each student has an account that you may access on line. If you are unable to, we can send you their account statement. The account is set up in two parts, a meal account and a general account. We can isolate your account money as you choose. Additionally, if you would like a note or restriction put on the account we can do that, too.

Q- Can the Salad Bar be considered a “main meal” selection?

Yes, The salad bar can be a complete meal. The vegetables, fruit, and protein rich foods, such as egg salad, chicken, cheese, tuna, ham, beans, and low-fat cheese, with a roll and a milk, are considered a main meal. We monitor the items a student takes, to insure 3 components, and a ½ cup fruit/vegetable is taken to qualify.

Q- Some lunches seem like dinners, why?

We do offer a complete hot lunch, in addition to the 5 components offered for lunch we serve based on total calorie amount, averaged over one week. Each grade level has their requirement as follows: K-5 max. 650 Calories; 6-8 max 700 calories; and 9-12 a maximum of 850 calories.

Additional food, drinks, 2nd helpings of entrees, or competitive foods are not included in this amount and will exceed the calorie requirement. NOTE, We can limit or restrict additional purchases on your child’s lunch account. Please call the school cafeteria crew chief directly, or my office at 610 847-5131, ext. 5002, if you would like us to add your requirement on the account.

  1. Can my child receive free 2nds on vegetables?

Yes, We will allow free 2nds on vegetables, after the main meal is eaten.

Q- Does the School District purchase foods locally?

Some. Our produce distributor purchases items from local farms in the area. We are considering the possibility of local and additional fresh foods. Our main food items are distributed through government commodity programs, and are not available locally. We are part of a local school buying group. When possible, we prefer to source food locally.

Q- Can you serve water with lunch, instead of milk?

No, To qualify as a complete reimbursable lunch, the 8 oz milk is counted as one of the 5 components, however 3 are required, plus ½ cup fruit or vegetable. Iced water is available for free with all lunches. Served in pitchers, dispensers, or a water fountain, in the cafeteria. Bottled water is sold at an extra cost.

Q- Do you sell candy, soda, cup cakes, and fried foods?

No, Candy, soda, and/or fried foods are not served in the schools. With the new school year and the Wellness Committee initiatives, we will provide alternative items for fundraising. As well as recipes that meet the health and nutritional requirements.

Q- What items are offered on the snack bar?

At the elementary schools, if a student would like an additional snacks, we offer a large pretzel, baked chips, popcorn, chex mix, or goldfish crackers. We also have frozen yogurt, 100% juice fruit pops, yogurt fruit parfaits, and fruit smoothies. These items follow the school nutrition program, and the Palisades School District Competitive foods guidelines. We also encourage free seconds on vegetables with a lunch purchase. A second slice of pizza, or a second food item is also available at a la carte pricing.

Q: Is there recycling at all of the schools?

Yes, all schools have active recycling programs in place, in each cafeteria there is a blue plastic milk bottle bin, and a separate recycle barrel. We also compost, and plan to be 100% at all schools.

How you can I get involved: Please review the cafeteria menu with your child, to help them plan for a balanced meal. Join your kids for school lunch or breakfast, be a partner. Throughout the year we will announce, "bring your parent to lunch days" to visit the cafeteria, and see the food being served. Find out what" going well. If you have questions about something being served, you may contact your school nurse, or the Food Service Director for more nutritional detail. Communicate any concerns or special diet requests your child might have, please think of the cafeteria as an extension of the classroom. Tell us what you think, call 610-847-5131 ext. 5002.