Parents send photos of skimpy school lunches, we find out if they meet required guidelines

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Do you know what your child is eating for lunch at school? How's it looking? For the second time in the past couple of weeks, parents from different school districts have reached out to us saying their child's school lunch is skimpy and not healthy. So we checked the federal guidelines, and we traced the problem back to one thing, money.

Parents in the Peru Community Schools district were the latest to send us photos of what they consider unacceptable meals at their child's school. Melted cheese on a bun with a side of sauce and bananas. Another meal consisted of meat, bread and oranges. After receiving multiple emails we wanted to find out if this is actually sufficient.

St. Vincent Hospital dietitian Anna Busenburg says she wouldn't consider the sauce a vegetable. Schools are required to follow state and federal meal guidelines. Peru Superintendent Sam Watkins says his district is in compliance. In a statement he tells us:

"Peru Community Schools strives to provide all students with balanced and nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With federal and state guidelines to follow and limited funding, our meals cannot compete with home cooked or fast-food options.  With that being said, I am very satisfied with our meals at PCS, I regularly eat at our building cafeteria’s and so do my own kids.  Our lunch personnel are doing the very best with the limited resources given.  Also, Peru Community Schools provides free lunch, breakfast, and dinner to all preschool through 8th grade students.  Furthermore, all federal and state guidelines are followed in every building every day at PCS in our food service programs."

For example, the federal lunch guidelines state at lunch, schools must offer students all five required food components meats/meat alternates, grains, fruit, vegetables, and fluid milk. Students must choose three of the five food offerings. One selection must be at least one half cup from either the fruit or vegetable component.

Busenburg agrees with superintendent Watkins and knows money is tight.

"But then when it comes to the cost of how do you then get that with the money that the school has to the kids. It has an impact just on how they are physically growing and developing. It has an impact on how they're doing in school mentally," said Busenburg.

She adds there are ways for parents and school leaders to come to a happy medium but someone has to go the extra mile and find extra money.

"Can we do better? And I think the answer to that question is yes! It's just finding then ways that the school can apply for grant funding for additional programs. There's a salad bar grant program where the school can apply," Busenburg said.

Since the students have a choice in some of those options, dietitians say parents can help by teaching their children at home how to make better food decisions and go for the healthier options when available.

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