School lunch changes highlighted during National School Lunch Week

A slew of exotic dishes welcomed Newton students to the cafeteria last week in celebration of National School Lunch Week. The new dishes featured on last week’s menu — among them, General Tso’s chicken and fresh mango — were simply the latest developments in a school lunch program that has seen drastic changes since the school year began.

Among these federally-mandated changes were adjustments to portion size based on age, implementation of calorie caps on meals and the addition of more fresh fruits and vegetables to students’ lunch trays.

Although the changes came into effect for the 2012-2013 school year, Newton schools were ahead of the curve according to Cristy Croson, Newton school district’s food service supervisor.

“We knew these changes were coming, so we’d been meeting most of the requirements prior to this year,” she said.

These requirements focus on the inclusion of whole grains, fruits and vegetables to students’ meals. Croson explained that the Newton schools had implemented whole grains into 50 percent of their grain servings as of last year.

In addition, the school district had added a fruits and vegetables seconds program, in which students can grab an extra apple or serving of carrots if they’d like.

Croson added that because of the new calories restrictions — both a minimum and maximum calorie count for students based on age — many of the district’s whole-grain desserts had to be cut from this year’s menu.

Despite this, Croson and others involved in Newton’s lunch program still like to mix things up from time to time in terms of what the students are served.

“We try to serve one new menu item a month,” she said. “It takes the elementary school kids a few times before they’ll try something new, but the middle and high schoolers will usually try them.”