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Healthy School Efforts in Florida Helped Districts Prepare for New School Meal Regulations

When asked about the difficulty of adopting the new USDA school meal regulations this year the food services staff in Broward County will tell you that it wasn’t a big change for them because of all the work they have done over the past six years. “We eliminated desserts back in 2006 and made the switch to let secondary students take an extra serving of fruit or vegetables back then,” said Darlene Moppert, program manager for nutrition education and training for the Broward County School District. “We have not heard students saying they are hungry or not getting enough.”

“The new regulations have actually been easier to implement in our middle and high schools,” Moppert continued, where new healthy reimbursable meal vending machines help students see that they are being given more options, not losing items that they enjoy. Every high school in the district has received at least one healthy vending machine to offer chilled meals as part of the reimbursable lunch (serving wraps, fruit and yogurt parfaits). 

“I believe that the new school meal guidelines are necessary,” said Moppert. “Before, we were serving lots of fruits and veggies that kids like. Now we are serving more variety, the students have more options to choose from and they are exposed to new flavors.”

Moppert’s department is working to encourage the elementary students to eat more of the fruits and vegetables that they are required to take. “We encourage them to try the new items by doing taste testing in the elementary schools once a month. We develop curriculum supports to go with the taste test. And our ‘veggie ambassadors’ (interns dressed up in veggie costumes) turn veggies into celebrities!”

Beyond getting kids excited about fresh fruits and vegetables, Moppert and her staff are studying what the kids take, what is eaten and what ends up in the trash. They are trying to make changes to increase consumption and decrease waste when they can. For instance, they observed that schools that served an entire orange were throwing away more oranges than schools that used a sectionizer to slice the oranges. So the department purchased a sectionizer for every school. “We don’t want to take these foods off the menu,” she explained, “We just have to figure out what it will take to get the kids to eat it.”

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