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Good food, better learning

Burnside students are served breakfast Thursday morning. Head cook Kim Mensinger said typically about 60 students eat breakfast, but during National Breakfast Week next week March 5-10 she hopes to about double that number.1 / 4
Ciara Johnston opens her carton of juice Thursday morning during breakfast. Following federal guidelines, students were offered milk, juice, biscuits, turkey sausage and cherries for breakfast. Lily Rosener eats next to Johnston.2 / 4
Second-grader Aydan Anderson reaches for silverware as he goes through the cafeteria line during breakfast at Burnside Elementary School.3 / 4
Under new federal regulations coming next fall, all milk offered in schools must be low-fat or non-fat.4 / 4

Colors typically get attention in school art rooms, as students learn about the contrasting and complementary colors. In grade school classrooms, children begin learning the names red, blue and yellow.

But recently in Red Wing public schools color is getting center stage in a different setting: the cafeteria.

It's part of new federal standards for school lunches that will go into effect next school year. Red Wing schools are getting a jump start on the new menus.

"We have been implementing these changes for the past few years," said Julie Haase, food service director.

Currently, each school lunch must contain milk, meats or proteins, grains and fruits and vegetables. Under the new guidelines, the schools also will get weekly guidelines, particularly when it comes to vegetables.

And here's where the colors come in: Each week school lunches must provide the required number of servings of dark green veggies, red and orange vegetables, beans or peas, starchy vegetables and other vegetables.

Another change is that all milk must be either low fat or non-fat and that half of all grains served must be whole grains. Haase said the district's bakery, located at Sunnyside Elementary School, has already begun making its products with whole grains.

Some of the new requirements, however, are keeping school cooks on their toes. Kim Mensinger, head cook at Burnside Elementary, said new foods with lower fat content require a more watchful eye.

"They cook quicker, get dried out quicker," Mensinger said. That means more planning in the kitchen, cooking food closer to serving time and making sure cooking temperatures are just right.

Pizza controversy

What is not new, however, is a classification that pizza is a vegetable, a topic that raised a few eyebrows last fall.

Haase explained that every processed food the school serves comes with a child nutrition label that indicates which of the USDA's categories the food fits into. Pizza, Haase explained, has always been labeled as containing a serving of grain (the crust), a meat (the toppings) and a vegetable (the tomato sauce).

"That's nothing new," Haase said.

What happened last fall was Congress was looking at changing the amount of tomato sauce that constitutes a serving of vegetables. For other vegetables, one serving is a half-cup. But for tomato sauce, it's an eighth-cup.

Congress eventually decided to scrap the proposed tomato sauce change. That allowed the eighth-cup of tomato sauce that comes on every slice of pizza served in school lunchrooms to continue to be counted as an entire serving of vegetables.

"I don't understand what the controversy is," Haase said.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.