Students in Hernando County public schools will be seeing more produce in their lunch selections this year.
"Our whole menu has been revamped, per the changes brought about from the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act," said the district's director of food and nutrition services, Lori Drenth.
"The new menu has more fruits and vegetables and now requires at lunch a student take a fruit or a vegetable, which was not the case in the past," Drenth said. "The new menu also has less grains overall, but more whole grains. The meat/meat alternate portions have also been reduced per the new regulations."
The Child Nutrition Reauthorization, Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act was designed to help improve the nutritional value of U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity foods and reduce childhood obesity. The act authorizes the USDA to set nutritional standards.
"Students seem to be adapting," Drenth said, "though there are some menu items they are a little wary of, like … mashed cauliflower, for example."
Other new items include a black bean burger, black bean pizza, Caribbean red beans, spinach dip with carrots, sugar snap peas and pot roast over noodles.
The act encourages the use of local farm produce.
The district will be "working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Agriculture to bring in seasonal fruits and vegetables grown in Florida," Drenth said. "There is a statewide bid that is put out on behalf of school districts, and we are able to purchase seasonal items off that bid. We get fresh produce from Patrick's Produce, which purchases from the wholesale market, and we give preference to Florida farmers."
Also new this year is prices, which have gone up.
"Meal prices increased from $1.70 to $1.80 at the elementary level and from $2 to $2.10 at the secondary level," Drenth said.
An example of an elementary school-level meal is this, scheduled to be served today at lunch:
Stuffed cheese sticks with or without dipping sauce, hearty pot roast over noodles with dinner roll, or tuna salad with loco bread; side items are seasoned green beans, mixed green salad and chilled peaches; drinks are assorted 100 percent fruit juice and fat-free milk.
On another note, during the summer, the school district strove to keep children fed with its Crusin' Cafe, a summer mobile feeding bus.
"Over 2,200 meals were served over the course of the summer," Drenth said.
Along with the bus, she said, "Twenty-five sites across Hernando County were receiving meals from school food service this summer. Overall, Hernando County school food service fed 60,000 meals over the course of the summer."