Food

Nika Kim, 13, lifts a piece of lettuce, which is considered a vegetable, during lunchtime at Rosemont Middle School in La Crescenta. Federal guidelines for school lunches mandates a healthier menu, including whole grain pastas, low fat cheese, and every student must take one-half cup of fruit or vegetables per day. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / October 4, 2012)

As new federal laws mandate more fruits and vegetables in school lunches, cafeterias in Glendale and Burbank are making adjustments to their menus. The transition, they say, has been fairly smooth.

Two years after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Eating Kids Act was passed, some school cafeterias nationwide haven’t experienced the level of reform coming this fall in more than a decade.

But school district officials in Burbank and Glendale say previous California laws banning fried foods and soda put them ahead of the curve in meeting new federal requirements.

“Now there’s this umbrella to make sure we’re all playing on the same playing field,” said Jennifer Chin, food services director for Glendale Unified.

Under the reform, students eating cafeteria fare are required to take a half-cup of fruit or vegetables each day. Glendale and Burbank employees have recently trained themselves to urge students to comply.

“We have to stop the kids and say, ‘Please, take some fruit or broccoli or something,’” Chin said.

In Burbank, food director Kathy Sessinghaus said some kids — those in kindergarten through second grades — are overwhelmed with the selection of fruits and vegetables because their meals are no longer prepared for them.

“Some kids have never tried raw broccoli, so it’s a new experience for them,” she said.

Under the new guidelines, children in kindergarten through fifth grades can consume no more than 650 calories at lunch. Students in grades six through eight can consume from 600 to 700 calories and high school students can consume up to 850 calories.

The new calorie limits have forced schools to re-think their dishes.

In Glendale, staff reduced the size of rice bowls and sandwiches.

“We had a little bit of complaint at the beginning,” Chin said.

In Burbank, Sessinghaus said just one student complained about the new portion sizes.

“We were concerned going into the school year, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “There’s over 150 regulations we have to meet. We were really holding our breath.”

In Burbank, cafeterias sell smaller hamburger patties and did away with their low-fat brownies and cookies, which were not up to the new federal standards.

“We’re working to get that back on there,” Sessinghaus said.

In the meantime, cafeteria staffers are crafting a recipe for a more calorie-friendly applesauce cookie.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @kellymcorrigan.