Soda Creek Elementary School kindergartner Lauren Rodriguez eats lunch Monday. She and the rest of the district’s students will get low-sodium meals this month, an effort by Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert to meet new federal nutrition standards that were proposed in January.

Photo by Jack Weinstein

Soda Creek Elementary School kindergartner Lauren Rodriguez eats lunch Monday. She and the rest of the district’s students will get low-sodium meals this month, an effort by Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert to meet new federal nutrition standards that were proposed in January.

Worldly Steamboat lunches to have less sodium

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To see this month’s lunch menus or for more information about Steamboat’s Nutritional Services Department, visit www.steamboatschoolfood.com.

— Steamboat Springs School District Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert wants to diversify what students eat.

Huppert’s March menu for all schools includes fare from across the globe.

Lunch options range from Korean chicken stir-fry over rice with kimchi to Irish stew with homemade soda bread and from Tuscan-style pasta topped with fresh-grated parmesan cheese and homemade multigrain bread to Egyptian-style chicken baked with bulgur wheat, garlic and lemon.

“It’s just fun to do new things from around the world,” he said. “These are things (the students) might not be able to get anywhere else or their parents may not make for them at home. It’s another educational piece we like to do.”

Since Huppert took over four years ago, he’s been trying to incorporate healthier lunch options for students, which are now at an estimated 90 percent made from scratch. And he’s also been trying to teach them about nutrition and the value of locally produced food.

With this month’s menu, Huppert said he’s trying to expose students to different types of food at an early age.

And he’s doing it to conform to nutrition standards that don’t yet exist by cutting the amount of sodium in the meals he prepares by nearly one-half.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, released a proposed update Jan. 13 to nutrition standards of school breakfasts and lunches.

It’s part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It would add more fruits and vegetables while reducing saturated fat and sodium content, among other changes, and is based recommendations released in October 2009 by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine.

The USDA is giving the public until April 13 to provide feedback on the update.

The update, available online by searching www.regulations.gov, stated that reducing sodium content is one of the key objectives of the updated nutrition standards. It stated that research indicates reducing dietary salt could reduce heart-related medical issues.

“More specifically, a forthcoming study suggests that reducing dietary salt in adolescents could yield substantial health benefits by decreasing the number of teenagers with hypertension and the rates of cardiovascular disease and death as these teenagers reach young and middle age adulthood,” it stated.

Lindsay Hucknall, a senior consultant with the Colorado Department of Education’s nutrition unit, said the state recommends allowing as much as 1,200 mg of sodium daily for all students. She said there currently is no federal recommendation for sodium levels.

The new nutrition standards would reduce daily sodium levels to between 640 mg and 740 mg, depending on grade. But those sodium levels wouldn’t be required for another decade, which would allow manufactured food providers to comply, Hucknall said.

But that doesn’t matter to Huppert. He’s already done it.

For example, Huppert said his March 21 to 25 menu at Steamboat Springs Middle School and Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools, which features the Tuscan pasta and Egyptian chicken, was 63 percent of the 1,200 mg max. He said it could have been half, but he kept Friday as pizza day because it’s a student favorite.

“When you’re doing stuff from scratch like we do, you can (reduce sodium content) almost instantaneous,” Huppert said. He added that the district’s lunch menu also exceeds the state’s recommendation for fiber, iron, calcium, vitamins and minerals. And Huppert said he’s doing it all within his budget.

School Board President Robin Crossan praised Huppert for applying a nutritional requirement that isn’t yet required.

“I think it’s amazing. I support him 100 percent,” she said. “Not only Max, but Max and his entire staff need to be applauded for their efforts to be as healthy as we possibly can within the budget constraints we have.”

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or e-mail jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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