Schools offering healthier choices under federal law

School nutrition

(FOX19) - Beginning this school year lunch rooms across the country will be required to provide healthier choices to students.

According to the USDA, the new meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in more than fifteen years. They say the changes will impact nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day.

The changes come as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was supported by the First Lady.

According to the USDA's website here's what changes parents can expect:

  • Fruits and vegetables to be offered every day of the week
  • Offerings of whole grain-rich foods will be substantially increased
  • Only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties will be available
  • Calories will be limited based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size
  • Cafeterias will focus on limiting the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium present in foods offered.

The new standards are expected to cost $3.2 billion dollars over the next five years.

The changes will be phased in over three years with most changes in breakfast offerings phased in during future years.

While dieticians are celebrating the changes, at Dohn Community High School the new mandate is bringing new concerns.

"The amount of food going to waste I mean really, because in the end it's going to cost us money," Dohn food service director Nancy Byrd told FOX19.

In the long run, Byrd is hopeful students will be willing to try the newly offered foods, but in the short run she is not so confident.

"[It's] a challenge, a big challenge," Byrd said.

She says 96 percent of their students are living in poverty which means that for many of them, they have not been exposed to the variety of fruits and vegetables the USDA is now requiring. She says they will need parents' support to be successful.

"In the last [school year] we stuck with the carrots and the broccoli, more or less stuff they can recognize," Byrd said. "This year some of the peas, beans, and greens we're going to be serving, I'm sure we're going to get kids that go 'Well… What is this?'"

"Whether kids eat it or not is another big area of debate that we also have to continue to work on," Executive Director of the Nutrition Council Lauren Niemes said.

Dietitian Lauren Neimes recognizes the struggle many schools will face implementing the law.

"The cost is a big factor in [that], how are these schools going to pay for these additional fruits and vegetables?" Niemes shared.

She is confident, however, that area districts as a whole will do just fine.

"There's some districts that are struggling and there's always room for improvement, but compared to other school districts across the country we're actually ahead," Niemes said.

In fact, Cincinnati Public Schools are a full year ahead. A representative from the USDA visited CPS last year to commend the district on beginning the new plan early. They say they have used grants to run the program without breaking the bank.

"You can," CPS food service Director Jessica Shelly said. "It's a challenge, but we have found if you use the right purchasing strategies, the right menuing you can not only get a healthy meal at a low price budget a healthy meal the kids enjoy."

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