Real pizzeria pizza is back at Maryville High School and Maryville Middle School after the U.S. Department of Agriculture eased nutrition regulations that were implemented this fall in an effort to cut calories from school lunches along with excess amounts of fat and carbohydrates.
Until the new regs went into effect, local-vendor pizza on "Pizza Friday" had been a popular lunchtime treat at both schools. The pizzas were served on alternate Fridays in each cafeteria, meaning that students got to chow down on one of their favorite meals twice a month.
But when the federal Healthy and Hunger-free Kids Act when into effect last year, the pizzas disappeared, since serving them caused the district to go over grain/bread maximums set forth under the new law.
Not everyone, admits R-II Nutrition Services Director Craig Schneider, was thrilled.
But as things have turned out, the squeaky wheel does indeed get the pepperoni. Pizza Friday is now back on the calendar for local students after the USDA opted to ease up on carbohydrate limits while pizza companies work to develop a product that contains less grain per slice.
"I think one reason (for the relaxed rule) was that so many people complained," Schneider said. "I'll tell you what, the kids are really excited to have pizza."
But though twice-a-month restaurant pizza is back on the menu rotation, another favorite of virtually all teenagers everywhere is still absent. Peanut butter sandwiches are disallowed by the feds because of their high calorie count.
Though USDA backed off on carbs, it has held the line on calories, and school districts must stay under the maximum or face the loss of federal meal program subsidies.
Currently, high school lunches must contain between 750 and 850 calories. The sixth-through-eighth-grade range is 600 to 700 calories. Children in kindergarten through fifth grade are served meals rated at 550 to 650 calories.
Actually, that's quite a bit of food, unless you're a 220-pound, 18-year-old linebacker. Earlier this year, athletes at some area schools complained they were no longer getting enough to eat over their lunch break.
Of course, the state-champion football Spoofhounds didn't appear to have wasted away much, and Schneider said one reason may be the district's policy of offering unlimited fruits and vegetables with all lunches.
The extra helpings of low-cal, nutrition rich natural food don't count against the calorie limits for "reimbursable" meals, each of which contain a milk or dairy product along with meat, grain and a fruit/vegetable portion.
"It's a great program actually," said Schneider. "When you think about 800 calories, they're getting quite a bit to eat. I think the kids have adjusted great to it, but it was a hard pill for some of them to swallow in the beginning. We had a few complaints, and there were some concerned parents."
Page 2 of 2 - Schneider's employer, R-II food vendor Lunchtime Solutions, added the extra fruits and vegetables bar a couple of years ago. Since then, he said, more kids appear to be eating healthier, especially at Eugene Field Elementary School.
The theory is that good nutrition habits formed at a young age carry over into adolescence.
"It's a long-term thing," Schneider said.
Schneider expects more tweaking of federal nutrition standards next year, and said that, in general, such changes are probably for the best if they help provide developing bodies with the nutrition they need.
"The kids like the food," he said of the calorie, carb and fat limits.
"In the beginning there was a lot of talk about it, but I think they've adjusted well."