Mansfield, along with many other schools across the country and Commonwealth, will be dealing with new nutritional regulation from both state and federal organizations in the coming year.
Mansfield's Director of Food Services Dawn Langtry said Mansfield has already started preparing for the transition, and presented a slide show for the School Committee on Tuesday.
"We all know it's coming, and it has to be in place by [August] 2012," she said.
The Federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama at the end of 2010 and the Commonwealth's 105 CMR Nutrition Standards for Competitive Foods and Beverages in Public Schools amendment to regulations set a new nutritional standard for public schools, and Mansfield is apparently ready for the change.
The Federal Act, according their Web site, "allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children."
Langtry said that many of the standards that will be put in place preclude many foods thought to be healthy. She said that while Smartfood is generally considered to be an OK snack, the calorie from fat ratio does not meet with the new standards of nutrition.
"It's going to be a really narrow margin of things you can use," she said. "But the school lunch program is big business, nobody wants to think of us that way but we are. We have tremendous buying power and buy a lot of products. So the industry is coming and making products available... They're going to do whatever they can to meet these requirements, because they're losing a tremendous amount of business."
While all the standards for the Federal and state laws are not yet finalized, Langtry shared some preliminary details. The Competitive foods initiative will encompass all foods that can be obtained in the school area, for one half hour before and after school hours. This includes snack bars, school stores, concession stands, booster stands, school buildings, cafeterias and even vending machines.
A few specific nutritional standards include that all juice available in the school must be 100-percent juice, milk must be lower than 1-percent fat, water must have nothing added, milk must have no more than 22- grams of sugar per eight ounce serving and no other beverages but milk, juice and water will be available on school grounds.
Langtry said that the sugar requirement on milk will effectively end the availability of flavored milk. Regular milk already has 22-grams of sugar per eight-ounce serving, and flavored milk requires an additional amount of sugar, and the state initiative also bans artificial sweeteners.
"There's a really good chance that we won't be able to have chocolate milk," Langtry said. "Because the states are doing this, there's a really good chance that the USDA will have to go along with it. If by chance, the USDA comes up with one guideline and the state comes up with another, the stricter of the two is usually the one we're going to have to comply with."
And from the current look of things on the Federal side with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, this seems to be the case. As of right now, the law requires that potable water be available at no charge to the students and milk (like the state law) have less than 1-percent fat. USDA regulations are also moving foreword, requiring a stricter calorie to fat ratio and more whole grains in school menus.
Langtry brought a sample menu for next week, highlighting many whole grain, vegetable, fruit and meat options. She said one major change in regulation coming in the nutritional side is that fruits and vegetables will no longer be lumped into one category. Each meal must now contain a half-cup of vegetables and a half-cup of fruit.
"We are in compliance with the regulations, but this is going to be a transitional year," Langtry said.
The Federal regulations will have more details come December 2012, and will go into effect on Aug. 1 2012. Langrty said that she wants to start transitioning as soon as possible, in order to make a slow and orderly change.
Langtry said she wanted to do it slowly for two reasons. First so they are not rushing and trying to get it done so quickly that they make mistakes, and second so that they have a menu that's not only healthy, but appropriate to a school child's pallate.
"After you listen to Dawn, you realize that [menu preperation] is both an art and a science," said Mansfield Schools' Director of Finance and Operations Ed Vozzella. "The science is meeting all those requirements, and the art is to make it attractive to the kids."