More legumes, lettuce, whole wheat and fruit will be on students' plates next year.
After some School Committee members and the student representative two weeks ago served at Swampscott schools, the committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a year extension of Chartwell's food service contract.
The committee members seemed pleased at the new direction by Chartwell's to serve healthier meals to the students.
"I love school lunch," Maureen Kellett, director of dining services, told the committee. She invited the committee members to have lunch with the students or she offered to bring a sample of lunch to the committee before one of its meetings.
Chairman Larry Beaupre, a one-time vegetarian, asked for teriyaki chicken, one of the new items Kellett said the school cafeterias are serving.
The new contract raises the price of lunches by 10 cents. Elementary school students will now pay $2.40 for lunch, while middle and high school students will pay $2.65.
The lunch program will cost the district about $48,283 for next year, the same as this year. Chartwells has budgeted a loss guarantee to the district of $43,313.
Driven mostly by new federal and state school food guidelines, Chartwells has been preparing for the new rules by introducing healthier items in the menu over the last year.
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
The cooks have substituted whole wheat flour in the pizza dough. "The kids love it. I think it is delicious," Kellett said. Several committee members agreed, saying their children like the school pizza better than other pizzas.
The new guidelines from the federal government require that the students take a half cup of either a fruit or vegetable with their lunch. If they don't, and the schools cannot make them, the federal government will not reimburse Chartwells. That means the school district will have to pay for that meal.
Kellett said Chartwells will introduce more dark greens, orange and red vegetables and legumes, mostly beans.
Half of the grains served must be whole wheat. So it will be adding whole grains to its rolls, muffins, pancakes and cereals, as well as the popular pizza, Kellett said.
The regulations also require lower salt content in foods, Kellett said. Chartwells is working with food manufacturers to provide lower-sodium items and is designing its own recipes that substitutes seasonings and herbs in place of salt, she said.
Chartwells has also stopped frying foods. "We fry nothing," she said.
The federal requirement is that less than 10 percent of all calories can come from saturated fats. So Chartwells has begun baking items instead of frying them. The deep fat fryers have been removed from the kitchen, she said.
The Massachusetts new school nutrition bill is even more stringent than the federal guidelines, Kellett said.
That law has banned all beverages that can be sold at school except for 4 ounce 100 percent fruit beverages, skim or 1 percent milk, water that has no sugar or any type of sweetner and any beverage with caffeine.
The food items sold cannot have more than 200 calories, no more than 35 percent of calories from sugar, no more than 200 milligrams of sodium and all breads and pastries must be 100 percent whole grain.
Maybe the most controversial part of the state law is its impact on school parties, particularly cupcake parties. The Stanley School has already banned birthday parties. And the committee is considering if it should adopt a district-wide ban on sugary foods at parties.
"It has not been well received," said Stanley School Principal Pam Angelakis.
She said the school recognizes birthdays by giving the students non-food treats and pencils. She said she has had several upset parents call her complaining.
"It will be a very challenging, difficult next year," said Theresa Minnucci, Chartwell's Northeast Regional Manager.
It was unclear to the committee or the food vendors if high school students would be prohibited from leaving campus to bring back items from Dunkin' Donuts or other high-calorie fast food shops.
Chartwells is also expanding its vegetarian menu. It already serves veggie burgers daily and is working on a meatless spaghetti sauce. Kellett said she wants to try the salad bar again, although mostly the teachers ate from the salad bar that was tried last year.
The committee asked if organizations that want to hold fundraising parties could buy pizza from Chartwells. Kellett said.