Food Sevice Supervisor counters allegations
MCPS Food Service Supervisor Marla R. Caplon wrote this letter to the editor in response to the Silver Chips article The inside scoop on school meals.
After reading the opinion piece entitled "Food for thought for MCPS" in the February 3 edition of Silver Chips, it is clear to me that there is a great deal of misconception among the students of Montgomery Blair High School about schools meals. I hope I can clarify some incorrect information through this letter and am willing to meet with interested students and staff to answer specific questions.
The National School Lunch Act of 1946 expressed the sense of Congress that the establishment and maintenance of the school lunch programs were "a measure of national security" meant to "safeguard the health…of the Nation's children." It was created to combat under-nutrition, now it must address that as well as over-nutrition. School meals must meet very specific nutritional requirements based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is a member of the National School Lunch Program and adheres to guidelines that are set.
I would like to address the misconceptions that appeared in the article.
"The new guidelines recommend up to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday…"
The new guidelines state:
•"Consume a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables while staying within energy needs. Two cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables per day are recommended for reference 2,000-calorie intake, with higher or lower amounts depending on the calorie level."
•"Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables) several times a week."
We are definitely meeting these guidelines. Over the course of a week, the cafeteria menus will include fresh and canned fruit, baby carrots, green beans, corn, potatoes, broccoli, mixed vegetables, juices, and soups"all contributing to the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
"…90 percent of Blazers do not think that Blair's meals meet their healthy, nutritional needs."
It is not surprising with all the conflicting information in the media today that students might have this misconception. In reality, the USDA establishes nutritional guidelines for school meals. The regulations are based on current, scientific evidence and complement the Recommended Dietary Guidelines and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Because MCPS adheres to the USDA nutritional guidelines, the nutritional needs of students are being met.
"Most school foods, including instant soups, contain the additive Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)…"
While it is true that some soups do contain MSG, it is not present in other items because MCPS specifications do not allow it.
"Also added to U.S. foods, and therefore to school meat and dairy products, are chemicals and growth hormones…"
Much of the food used in school meal programs is provided by the USDA under very stringent guidelines and specifications. In addition, MCPS purchases are based on specifications that meet our very specific standards for nutritional composition that restricts food additives. Although the food offered in the cafeteria may look like food available from commercial sources, it is very different. For instance, our franks and luncheon meats are poultry, our pizza is made with a low-fat mozzarella cheese, our cheeses are low-fat, and our salad dressings are low-fat as well. Only French fried potatoes are deep fried, all other products are oven-baked.
Balance and moderation are the keys to healthy eating and are the philosophy behind MCPS menu planning. The nutrient targets established by the USDA are to be met over a week's average of menus. Because a la carte is a significant part of high school meal programs, MCPS has also established guidelines for a la carte items to limit fat, saturated fat, and sugar in servings offered. At some point students must take responsibility for the food choices they make. The biggest changes that students could make to improve their health and nutrition would be to add a fruit or vegetable to every meal and to drink milk instead of soda. Certainly the offerings provided by the cafeteria make this possible.
Again, I hope this helps to inform Blair High School students and staff about the school meal programs and dispels misconceptions. As I stated earlier, I would be happy to meet with students and staff to discuss this topic further.
Marla R. Caplon, R.D.
Food Service Supervisor