Congress may not limit french fries in schools, but Philly already does

    Last week Congress struck down proposed new rules from the Department of Agriculture to cut back on french fries and pizza in school lunches.

    The new school lunch guidelines, proposed by the USDA in January, would have limited starchy vegetables, including fries, to one cup a week in federally subsidized lunch programs. They also would have required at least half of the grains served to be whole grains. Another proposal was to increase the amount of tomato sauce a slice of pizza would need to have to be considered a vegetable — currently, it is two tablespoons.

    Amy Virus, a registered dietitian who helps plan the Philadelphia School District’s menus, said even though they were struck down by Congress, some of the guidelines are already in place in the district.

    “We have been working hard to incorporate the guidelines from the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, which asks us to increase the number of whole grains in the menu as well as fresh fruits and vegetables,” Virus said.

    Fries are served only once a week, and Virus says the school district offers dark green and orange vegetables and whole grains three times per week. Though a $6.8 billion price-tag over five years was a major reason some school districts and Congress backed away from some provisions of the rule, Virus said the Philadelphia district has been able to work within its existing budget to increase the nutritional content in lunches. That is partly because the national healthy schools challenge increased demand nationally for items such as pizza with whole-grain crust.

    “There’s more of a market demand for whole-grain products, so we’re able to bring them in at a reasonable cost,” Virus said.

    Congress left intact provisions in the USDA rules that would double the servings of fruits and vegetables in school lunches, specifying that some be dark green or orange vegetables.

    Alyssa Moles is the regional coordinator for the Farm to School program, which helps supply locally grown produce to 30 schools in the Philadelphia School District.

    “In Philadelphia it actually isn’t going to be a huge change because they’ve already been working to serve a variety of vegetables,” Moles said.

    Schools would get an increase of 6 cents per meal if they abide by new, healthier guidelines and other regulations.

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