School lunch across Vermont is undergoing a major transformation.
"My wish is that they did all the changes gradually instead of so many all at once," said David Horner of Richmond School Food Service.
This year the USDA is introducing new rules for what kids find on their trays.
"The paperwork is really quite time consuming and a little overwhelming," Horner said.
The revised standards place limits on how much grain and protein kids can eat each week.
"I had to see how many calories are in every meal, which there were really unlimited calories before," Horner said.
And they put a larger emphasis on fruits and vegetables of all colors.
"The new requirements, there's all different color requirements, so it is kind of like a puzzle," Horner said.
It's a puzzle that's challenging folks in Richmond school kitchens.
"In all the schools we created fruit and veggie bars to cover the colors to simplify it for us because writing those menus has been a struggle," Horner said.
Horner oversees the division's food service and argues new mandatory calorie counts and serving sizes are not right for all kids.
"Whether it is a football player or somebody who isn't active in sports, they're all one size fits all, which really doesn't make sense to me," Horner said.
Chef Diane Fitzgerald has made a career out of tackling menu changes.
"We used to do chicken nuggets and hot dogs, and those are things of the past, so the kids don't see any of that anymore," said Fitzgerald, the food service manager.
She's in favor of the push for fresh and healthy, but says it can often mean a time crunch in her kitchen.
"When you're doing fresh fruits, to get them ready and then you have to get them in the oven, and get it out and just make sure everything is ready, it is definitely more prep time to get it ready," she said.
She and other school chefs across the state have been pushing more nutritious options for years, but admit the new regulations have them working as part-time cafeteria cops.
"We have to make sure there is a fruit or vegetable on the plate and if there is not, we have to make sure they go back and get one. And for the most part the kids are pretty compliant with that," Fitzgerald said.
But it doesn't mean kids are eating them.
"To get passed you have to have one fruit. You can pick a fruit that you don't really like, because you can always put it on the share table," said Jasper Martinez, a student at Champlain Elementary School in Burlington.
Folks with the Vermont School Nutrition Association are introducing new training sessions to help divisions adapt.
"Many of the struggles that I am hearing is that they are trying to shift to this new system sort of from zero to 50 if you will and that's really hard," said Doug Davis of the Vermont School Nutrition Association.
And while that work is paying off with some young critics, others are taking their complaints to mom and dad.
"I guess maybe two years ago they were interested in some of the things on the menu, but not this year. We've seen a change unfortunately," said Kathleen Shaffner, a Burlington mom.
Leaving many turning toward their own brown bag.
"They just prefer it," Shaffner said. "There is nothing on the menu that interests them."
Cost is also a big concern. The new regulations are adding about 40 cents to what it takes to plate a school lunch in Richmond. At Camels Hump it means an additional roughly $500 worth of food every week. Increasing the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is proving to be expensive. A number of districts are now buying food together in bulk to bring costs down.
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