Student diet, School Dilemma: Keeping kids healthy and happy

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – Every school day, almost 31 million students get a lunch through the National School Lunch Program, but these aren’t the same school lunches you may remember.

Now it’s out with the french fries, and in with the sweet potato fries. Though it may be healthier, it doesn’t mean it’s doing any good. School officials are facing a dilemma of how to get children to eat what is required without tossing the healthier items.

“It just got worse. Like it doesn’t taste as good anymore,” said LSC student Jada Barnes.

Kids like fourth grader Jada Barnes, started noticing a change about 18 months ago when federal standards set by the USDA were updated to put more nutrition on the menu.

“I understand that they are trying to do healthy stuff, but sometimes people don’t like it. They just like the regular food and how it used to be,” said Barnes.

“I think school lunches are getting a little worse day by day, because when I first came here the spaghetti was super delicious. But now I feel like getting peanut butter and jelly every time, because it has like hidden onions in it,” said LSC fourth grader Braydin Wilson.

Those onions are no accident. The new standards require elementary school lunch menus to cut out sugary sweets like cake and substitute them with healthier options like fruits and whole grain cookies. Traditional white breads and buns are off the lunch line as well. Instead, whole grains are used, but there was one change in particular that had the kids turning up their noses.

“If we have broccoli I don’t take it,” said LSC third grader Davionna Lewis

“I mostly like everything, but I don’t like green beans and corn,” said TSC third grader Gerardo Gomez.

“I think they’re trying to make us feel healthy, but they are not understanding that we don’t like some of the vegetables here,” said Wilson.

Those vegetables have rules too. Schools have had to cut down on the amount of starchy vegetables like potatoes and must now offer certain amounts from specific subgroups. Dark green vegetables like spinach and red/orange vegetables like carrots and tomatoes are just a few examples of what lunch lines now offer. Area food service directors say this is the change that is the most challenging.

“There aren’t a lot of vegetables available to even serve in those subgroups and finding ones that were acceptable to children was another challenge,” said LSC Food Service Director Donna Scanlon.

“Overall, it’s been a puzzle piece trying to put it together to make sure you’ve met the components and that the students have that on their trays, so that we are meeting the regulations,” TSC Food Service Director Lori Shofroth.

Meeting the regulations isn’t the only challenge. Getting kids to buy in and eat up is just as important. Each public school corporation in Tippecanoe County participates in the USDA’s Offer versus Serve program. The program allows students to say no to some of the items on the menu. Students must choose three of the five foods offered. At least one of the choices has to be a fruit or a vegetable.

“The more choices we can give students the more likely they are going to find something they like to eat,” said Scanlon.

What if they don’t like it?

“If we find out that the kids are not accepting it after five to seven times, then we take it off the menu and we try something new,” said Shofroth.

Though 18 months have passed, food service directors know it will take time for a healthier menu to turn into a healthier child.

“We’re not going to see a difference overnight. This is something that may take us years before we see a significant difference in children’s eating habits,” said Scanlon.

At least for some it is already working.

“I think it’s good and I like the vegetables that they give,” said TSC third grader Joslyn Bishop.

“I think it’s a good thing, because healthy food is good for us. So, I think it’s good,” said LSC third grader Monzerat Aquino.

For more on the guidelines of National School Lunch Program, click here.

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