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Nutrition is on the menu for district meeting

Last school year's drop in lunch sales, new guidelines have food services department changing offerings, trying different ideas.

August 23, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Megan Hartshorne, Melissa Manning and Debra Appel of the nutrition department at Laguna Beach Unified School District.
Megan Hartshorne, Melissa Manning and Debra Appel of… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Portion control and preparing more food in-house are on the menu for Laguna Beach Unified School District nutrition staff as the start of the school year nears.

In response to a drop in lunch purchases and a change in the maximum entree size, the nutrition department, under the guidance of food services director Debra Appel, has spent the summer crafting menus, securing vendors and planning how they will serve food to students. The department will present ideas to the school board at Tuesday's board meeting.

According to the district, students purchased fewer lunches in all but two months from September through June last year compared to the 2011-12 school year.

Staff is also making changes to its menu based on new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. In December, the department lifted guidelines that limited the ounces of protein and grains in entrees served at schools.

"The [former guidelines] decreased entree sizes and made it difficult for kids [particularly older ones] to get enough calories and food to fill them and get them through the school day," registered dietitian Megan Hartshorne, who is contracted with the district, wrote in an email.

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The USDA placed a maximum ounce limit on meals in hopes of combating childhood obesity, but main dishes were too small for some children, Hartshorne said.

"We had a hard time fitting a sandwich on the menu because a slice of bread would put us over the limit," Hartshorne said. "There was so much backlash nationwide from nutrition departments and especially students that the USDA released the maximum caps by December."

The district's nutrition department is also working on how to limit hoarding when outside vendors bring food onto campus, particularly at Laguna Beach High School, as parents reported at a board meeting earlier this year.

Parents were concerned that the first few students in line take a majority of the food, leaving little for those remaining in line.

Last year Mandarin King brought food, including orange chicken, to the high school twice, said Shannon Soto, the district's fiscal services director.

Hartshorne suggested placing the food in take-out containers as a possible solution.

"The last child in line needs the same option as the first person in line," Hartshorne said.

Another issue: If there are too many kids in line, there isn't enough time to serve them all, said school board member Jan Vickers, whose youngest child graduated from Laguna Beach High School in 2010.

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