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Targeting nutrition

USDA guidelines bring yogurt to Idaho, local school menus


Chartwells employees at Grangeville Elementary Middle School are (L-R) Pam Bryant, Deb Ringer and Maureen Burney.

Chartwells employees at Grangeville Elementary Middle School are (L-R) Pam Bryant, Deb Ringer and Maureen Burney. Photo by Lorie Palmer.

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GRANGEVILLE – Greek-style yogurt is just one of the many changes in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food guidelines for schools in the past few years.

For the first time, USDA is conducting a Greek Yogurt pilot program in four states, including Idaho, in an effort to decide whether the addition of cost-efficient, nutrition-packed Greek Yogurt should be offered to schools nationwide.

“I think it’s a great idea. We have always offered yogurt at breakfast but the Chobani Greek Yogurt is different. It is not as sweet as regular yogurt and it takes some getting used to for the kids,” said Maureen Burney who works for Chartwells and manages the food program for Mountain View School District 244.

Burney said the yogurt is offered in three flavors: vanilla, blueberry and strawberry.

“The vanilla is not at all popular at the elementary schools – but it is at the high schools,” she said. “The favorite of the younger kids, by far, is strawberry.”

For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is conducting a Greek Yogurt pilot program in four states, including Idaho, in an effort to decide whether the addition of cost-efficient, nutrition-packed Greek Yogurt should be offered to schools nationwide.

The food program is reimbursed based on the number of meals served as well as based on the number of applicants eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Currently, MVSD has an average of about 65 percent of students across the district who receive free and reduced meals. Meals are $1.80 for breakfast and $2.55 for lunch ($2.80 at the high schools and $4.30 for adults). Reduced cost is 40 cents per meal.

Burney is glad to add new offerings, she said, but the process of planning the correct USDA meals has become more and more challenging.

“There are many targets we have to hit, including not only hitting each of five nutrition components – milk, meat/meat alternate, grain, vegetable and fruit – but also hitting the additional regulations that include number of choices, serving size, fat content and color of vegetables served.”

By next year, all of the state must comply with 100 percent whole grain. Right now, Burney said, they are at about 90 percent.

“It can be difficult to make a pizza crust that is good and hits all the targets with the toppings,” she said. In addition this year, she said, all students must take a minimum ½ cup serving of fruit or vegetable – whether or not they eat it.

In order to qualify for reimbursements, this and many other regulations must be met.

Why add yogurt?

Chobani, America’s No. 1 selling Greek Yogurt brand, provides the Go Greek in School website to help parents better understand how they can bring this affordable change to school nutrition to Idaho. Below are some authentic strained Greek Yogurt facts:

• Contains 14-18 percent more of the daily value for protein than regular, unstrained yogurt (9g to 10g of protein per 4 oz. serving)

• Yogurt is a good source of calcium and vitamin D which aids in building strong bones

• It does not contain any artificial flavors, sweeteners or preservatives

• It can be served alongside fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain side dishes in order to meet new federal school meal requirements

• It is a versatile, flavorful ingredient that can be added to dressings, soups, smoothies and baked goods or use it as a sour cream or mayo substitute to lower the fat, calories and sodium while increasing the protein of any school meal recipe without sacrificing taste

There is a Chobani yogurt plant located in Twin Falls. Log onto www.chobani.com.

“We offer both milk – white and chocolate — and juice. Of course we encourage milk because of the benefits of it, but we do not make kids take milk if they don’t want it. They can choose juice and juice does cost less.”

Burney works on a five-week revolving menu and carefully plans each meal which is different for each age group. Elementary students have different portion sizes than do middle and high school students. Chartwells contracts with Lewis-Clark Early Childhood Program (Head Start) which is at GEMS and provides a different type of menu for those preschool children, as well. The company also caters for a variety of events and groups.

Lunch is also offered at Grangeville and Kooskia during the summer months where about 80 kids ages 1 to 18 are served in Grangeville and about 40 in Kooskia, all at no cost to the participants. Chartwells employs a total of 15 people in MVSD.

“We serve a total of 600 breakfasts and 1,000 lunches per day at all the schools combined,” Burney said. “That doesn’t count Head Start or the after-school programs’ snacks or the ala carte menu items.”

All reports Burney generates go through MVSD’s district office, and invoices and details are overseen by the district office and the school board.

“I love my job, really,” Burney said. “It can just be tougher and more complicated as the USDA rules continue to change.”

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