Jefferson County Public Schools officials will keep a close eye on school lunches this year as the district implements new federal standards that will make meals healthier.
The standards approved this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture bring school meals into compliance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
This means more fruits and vegetables and whole wheat and less sodium and fat in school food. But students need to participate for JCPS to be reimbursed under the National School Lunch Program.
To help meet these standards, the government is offering schools 9 cents more to spend on each meal for free-and-reduced lunch students, bringing the total to $2.88 per student. But JCPS nutrition director Julia Bauscher said schools won't get the money if students pass on the healthier foods.
“The fact that students need to take a fruit or vegetable is very important for us to communicate that to the students, and to our staff and to parents so that they understand,” she said.
In the district over 60 percent of the roughly 100,000 students are eligible for a free-and-reduced meal, but only around 80 percent participate in the program, said Bauscher.
Of that group, around 80 percent of elementary school students take the necessary amount of produce, but the estimate for high school students falls shorter.
“The biggest challenge is going to be in high schools where the majority of students…I would say 50 percent of them take a fruit or vegetable.”
JCPS has already been leading the charge in changing recipes and access to fresh produce and participation by students during this initial year would help the district continue its fresh produce initiatives, said Bauscher.
In October, JCPS will submit its data to the Kentucky Department of Education and if the district is in compliance it will receive an additional 6 cents per free-and-reduced meal served. The district also receives more money than other districts for having over 60 percent of its students eligible for low-income meals.