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Why is mac and cheese on the way back in Kingsport schools?

Rick Wagner • Jan 28, 2019 at 2:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Let’s make mac and cheese great again?

Coming this fall, that perennial food favorite among the younger set is making a triumphant return in 13 Kingsport school cafeterias, thanks to relaxed federal whole grain standards

And changes in school nutrition standards under the administration of President Donald Trump already have led to more fat and less sugar in flavored milk in Kingsport City Schools this year.

WHY IS HIGHER FAT MILK HERE AGAIN?

Jennifer Walker, director of School Nutrition Services for Kingsport City Schools, said that starting in August 2018, KCS began serving flavored milk, chocolate and strawberry, with 1 percent fat as allowed by the Trump administration instead of the formerly required 0 percent or skim flavored milk. She said the white milk still is offered with 0 percent and 1 percent fat.

“When you take all the fat out you have to replace it with sugar,” Walker explained.

She said the 1 percent flavored milks simply taste better. Milk in the United States is generally offered in 0 percent, 1 percent, 2 percent and 4 percent.

Amber Anderson, school nutrition supervisor for Sullivan County Schools, said there has been no change in the county schools’ milk offerings this year despite the Trump administration change. She said the reason was that suppliers used by the county school system do not offer 1 percent flavored milk in cartons used in school cafeterias.

Sullivan County Schools is a member of the Johnson City-based NETCO food cooperative, but KCS and Washington County are not. Fourteen area systems are, including Johnson City, Hawkins County and Unicoi County. Anderson said NETCO offers Dairy Pure milk, while KCS uses Prairie Farms milk. Anderson said Dairy Pure offers 12-ounce, 1 percent flavored milk, used for a la carte sales, but not in the 8-ounce cartons used for regular school lunches and breakfasts.

WHAT ABOUT MAC AND CHEESE?

“We have not menued mac and cheese because of the confusion over it being a vegetable or not a vegetable,” Anderson said.

It’s not a vegetable but can be a side dish or, in a large enough serving, a meat alternative, she said. Macaroni and cheese could be added back to the menu, but that would occur at the start of a new school year because of the supply chain and time required to amend contracts and line up commodities, according to Anderson.

As for KCS, for the 2019-20 school year, Walker said the system will make some changes allowed by the Trump administration in whole grains without a waiver. Current requirements are to have all whole grains in school cafeteria offerings, while the new rule says only half have to be whole grains but all must be enriched grains. She said school systems, including Sullivan County’s, have been able to get waivers if they could show students simply wouldn’t eat whole grain pastas or biscuits.

Anderson said the county does have a waiver to serve non-whole grain biscuits and pastas.

She said KCS never requested a waiver but that as a practical matter that requirement prompted her to remove macaroni and cheese, a student favorite, from the menu. She said whole grain mac and cheese prepared in mass quantities for a school cafeteria simply falls apart and is not palatable.

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