HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is one of six states whose school lunch programs have completely, or almost completely, implemented healthier national school lunch guidelines created in an effort to reduce childhood obesity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Colorado and Florida were fully compliant with the rules that called for providing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limiting calories, while Montana, along with Oklahoma, North Carolina and South Carolina were at least 98 percent compliant.
The lunch programs in Lewis and Clark and Jefferson counties were certified in June, said Christine Emerson, director of the Montana School Nutrition Programs.
Nationally, 71 percent of school lunch programs are certified as meeting the new USDA standards.
To become certified, schools had to submit lunch menus to state officials for review. Emerson and her staff visited 65 of the 257 school lunch programs last year as part of the certification requirements.
"It was a busy year, but we did well," Emerson said.
Schools that met the new meal requirements received an additional federal reimbursement of six cents for every meal served.
Jennifer Spellman, food services director for Great Falls Public Schools, tells the Great Falls Tribune it's slightly more expensive to provide fresh fruit, but it has been worth it.
Some of the guidelines were changed after receiving feedback from schools, said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services within the USDA.
"You can't make a quarter-pound hamburger with 2 ounces of bread and 2 ounces of meat," Salley Young, a food services manager with a Great Falls elementary school told the Tribune last year. "A 2-ounce hamburger — you can just imagine."
Concannon said the USDA loosened some of the protein and bread restrictions as long as the meals didn't exceed calorie limits.
Similar meal standards take effect this year for school breakfast programs, Concannon told the Independent Record.
Schools will be required to serve more whole grains, at least a half cup of fruit or vegetables each day and milk must be either fat-free or 1 percent. Breakfast must also offer more than one food choice for children.
The effort expands to snack foods during the 2014-15 school year. The National School Lunch Program will require that all food sold in schools during the day meet healthy snack requirements, including items sold in vending machines, snack booths and a la carte options during meals.