City Schools of Decatur (CSD) is considering slashing some of the less-healthy food items from its menus, said CSD Director of Nutrition Allison Goodman.
“The first thing on the list is to remove chocolate milk, and all our email and phones have been blowing up,” Goodman said. “On that point we’re getting lots of feedback right now.”
Goodman said parents and residents have been calling to say the school system had better not take their child’s chocolate milk away. However, all of the items on the list are just “proposed” changes presented by the Ultimate Menu Committee (UMC).
The UMC was formed by Goodman during the spring of 2012 to draft guiding principles to develop new lunch menus, and to develop a list of the top 10 items for removal from lunches and provide healthier alternatives for those items.
Chocolate milk is first on the list, which also includes items such as muffins, French toast, chicken nuggets and other frozen or processed foods. Goodman said eliminating some of the items on the list doesn’t necessarily mean CSD will do away with them completely; she said the system just wants to move toward fresher products.
“We’re looking at healthier alternatives to lots of things,” Goodman said. “When it hit the papers that we might do away with chocolate milk, Mayfield called me and told me they are coming out with a lower sodium and lower sugar chocolate milk in January, so that’s an option.”
Goodman said the new Mayfield chocolate milk will contain approximately a whole tablespoon less sugar than the chocolate milk the system is currently serving.
“That’s what the committee is all about,” Goodman said, “looking for alternatives that are better for our children but that are also within our price point so we can serve them in our schools for lunch.”
Clare Schexnyder, a parent and member of the UMC, said the committee consisted of several parents, school employees and even a student. Schexnyder said the committee’s first meeting lasted approximately two hours, which was an indication of the work they would be doing over the next several months.
“You could see all of the people there at that first meeting thought they had an opportunity to be involved in something really great,” Schexnyder said.
Recently the USDA changed its requirements for lunches and eliminated things such as fruit canned in heavy syrup, margarine and trans fat, and Schexnyder said she thought it was unique that the UMC was a group tasked with going above and beyond those requirements.
“We looked at other schools across the nation and other programs that have overhauled school system nutrition programs and looked very carefully at what was on our menu,” Schexnyder said. “We basically just want to put the healthiest options in front of our kids in the most cost effective way.”
In addition to the suggestions brought forth by the committee, Schexnyder said the UMC also suggested at a recent meeting that the system hire a food expert to assess CSD and its lunch menus.
“We want to bring somebody in to look at our system to see how we’re doing and say how we can be doing things a little better,” Schexnyder said. “I’m very excited that [CSD Superintendent Phyllis Edwards] was out there and said they were on board for an assessment and they would fund it.”
Schexnyder said she wants residents and community members to understand that the UMC isn’t an extreme group of parents or health nuts but rather a group that is looking for the healthiest alternatives for CSD’s approximately 3,200 students.
“We’re not totally against chicken nuggets. We just want to make sure that we’re getting rid of highly processed products,” Schexnyder said, “and we thought we could do a better job on peanut butter, since this is the state for peanuts, and we could find a vendor without hydrogenated oils.”
The UMC also discussed the frequency of how often certain items show up on weekly menus.
“With chocolate milk we really felt that all the added sugar makes it a dessert and we discussed only having it on Fridays,” Schexnyder said. “The parents who think their student won’t drink anything else will probably provide them with something else but at least we might not have it available at schools.”
The board will vote over the next several months as to whether to adopt the UMC’s suggestions for the spring 2013 semester.