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Lunch managers weigh in on Greek yogurt as a possible protein source

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School cafeterias may have a new, but costly, protein source to enliven the menu.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Richard L. Hanna, R-Barneveld, hope to reclassify Greek yogurt as a protein source instead of a dairy source through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some cafeteria managers, however, said they will add it to menus only if it is cost-effective.

“Greek yogurt is packed with healthy protein and should be available to our children in schools,” Mrs. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a press release. “New York State is home to a strong and growing Greek yogurt industry. And when we connect these businesses to lunchrooms across the country, we can give our children better access to healthy, nutritious food while strengthening New York’s own dairy industry.”

District cafeterias have struggled to keep students happy with hot lunches as vegetables and whole grains have increased their presence on menus nationwide.

Craig P. Orvis, Watertown City School District cafeteria manager, is in charge of one of the largest lunch programs in the north country. He said yogurt is not served much now, and he wasn’t sure how much it would be served if Mrs. Gillibrand’s request succeeds.

“It would just be another protein choice,” he said. “It depends on what the cost would be.”

Mr. Orvis said he hoped that USDA approval of the measure would make Greek yogurt more affordable for school districts. Right now, a carton of Greek yogurt costs more than a 2-ounce hamburger, he said.

South Jefferson Central cafeteria manager Cindy A. Overton already serves yogurt, saying it is a popular menu item.

It was not so popular in the beginning of the year, however. Some students in the district held a lunch strike at the beginning of the school year to voice their distaste with the smaller portions the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required. However, the daily lunch participation has been increasing every day since the beginning of the month, she said.

“We don’t have Greek yogurt here,” she said. “I think it would be an excellent choice to have on any grade level. It’s out there in the commercial market, and we’re trying to compete with the commercial market.”

She also is aware of the high prices associated with Greek yogurt, however, and said she would buy it only if it fit into her budget.

“Greek yogurt is much more expensive than regular yogurt,” she said.

In the midst of a lunch shift, Lowville Academy and Central School cafeteria manager Steven Fuller said he has not given Greek yogurt much thought yet. “We don’t use Greek yogurt,” he said.

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