Quad City schools make dramatic changes to school lunch

Schools in the Quad Cities are adding a new subject to their curriculum that’s all about what your student eats and drinks.

Now, more than ever before, school districts are focusing on nutrition.

On Thursday, March 6th, 2014, News 8 visited a school in the Illinois Quad Cities and a school in Iowa Quad Cities to see how they are adapting to new rules and regulations from the federal government.

“Some of the guidelines include having fruit and vegetables on the menu every day, and we have to have so many fruits and vegetables per week,” says Kayla Leu, Director of School Nutrition for the Bettendorf Community School District. “In the subgroup of vegetables, we have to have so many red and orange vegetables and so many dark green vegetables.”

“We’ve gone from preparing meals with a few regulations to numerous regulations,” says Deb Magerkurth, Food Service Director for the Rock Island-Milan School District. “Even to the point of how many beans [students] have to have during the week, how many green vegetables, red vegetables, etc. so it’s been astronomical in their changes that we have gone through.”

Leu says one-third of a student’s “daily dietary intake” takes place at school, so it’s important that the items that go on their cafeteria trays is healthy.

“There’s a lot of kids that come to school hungry that didn’t get breakfast,” she says. “They’re eating a lot of empty carbs that aren’t going to fuel their mind for the rest of the day and when you’re on an empty stomach, kids are just not in a very good learning habitat that they need.”

“They learn better if they’re not hungry,” agrees Magerkurth. “We want them to be able to have the appropriate nutrients so that they can grow to be a viable human being as an adult and to not have health problems.”

Even the vending machines are changing. Instead of soda and salt, both the Rock Island-Milan School District and Bettendorf School District offer drinks like water or lemonade and snacks in smaller sizes.

“I think feeding children healthy foods is the right direction,” says Magerkurth. “I question some of the control.”

Magerkurth says those standards can be a little too much… literally. Compared to the 2012-2013 school year, she says the Rock Island-Milan School District’s food costs have gone up around 11%, which also includes fuel surcharges.

However, Leu says food costs in the Bettendorf School District have gone down 9% from the 2012-2013 school year. She says they are ordering their food through a new distributor this year and says she thinks that has a lot to do with the decrease.

“I think it’s a good thing that we’re going in this direction,” says Leu.

Despite the differences in food cost – whether up or down – both Leu and Magerkurth say they’re ahead of the learning curve compared to other school districts and states.

“[We] have always been ahead, I think, as far as what [we've] tried to do to meet children’s needs,” says Magerkurth.

“We’re really kind of ahead of the game right now,” says Leu, who adds that the Bettendorf School District follows Iowa’s Healthy Kids Act. “There’s still a few things that we have to have put in place but we’re on our way there.

The Bettendorf School District has also introduce Nutrislice to their schools, which is a website that publishes school menus so parents and students have more information about each food served.

As far as the Rock Island-Milan School District, Magerkurth says they are working to implement the USDA’s new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards to promote healthier food options during the school day and they have talked about including a nutrition site on their website as well.