Do you toss your cafeterias food in the trash?
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Becky Domokos-Bays provides food services in the Alexandria, Virginia City Public Schools. She has served her students whole-grain pasta 20 times. Each time, she says, they rejected it.
But starting next school year, pasta and other grain products in Alexandria City Public Schools will have to be mostly, whole-grain. That includes rolls, biscuits, pizza crust, tortillas and even grits.
The requirement is part of a government effort to make school lunches and breakfasts healthier. The biggest challenge is keeping fruits and vegetables from ending up in the trash.
Championed by first lady Michelle Obama, the new standards have been phased in over the last two school years, with more changes coming in 2014.
Some schools say the changes have been expensive and difficult to put in place. They want the government to roll back some of the requirements. The main concerns: finding enough whole grain-rich foods that kids like and lowering sodium levels.
School nutrition directors across the country mostly agreed that healthy changes were needed in school lunches long famous for daily servings of greasy fries and pizza. But Domokos-Bays and other school nutrition directors say the standards were put in place too quickly for kids get used to new tastes. When kids don't buy lunch, or throw it away, it wastes money.
Some of the main challenges reported by school nutrition directors:
Whole grains: While many kids have adapted to whole grain rolls, breads and even pizza crusts, some schools are having problems with whole grain-rich pastas.
Whole grains have also proved a hard sell for some popular regional items, like biscuits and grits in the South. Lyman Graham of the Roswell, New Mexico, school district says tortillas are one of the most popular foods in his area, but the whole wheat flour versions are "going in the trash."
Sodium/Salt: Schools will have to lower the total sodium levels in meals next school year and then will have to lower them even further by 2017. School lunch directors say the 2017 target isn't feasible and say kids will reject the foods.
Fruits and vegetables: The standards require every student to take a fruit or vegetable to create a balanced plate. The reaction among students has been mixed. "If the kids don't eat the food, then all I have is healthy trash cans," said Peggy Lawrence, director of nutrition at the Rockdale County Public Schools in Georgia.
Healthier snacks: Schools will for the first time this year have to make sure that all foods, including food in vending machines, meet healthier standards. While many schools have already moved to make snacks healthier, others depend on snack money to help operate their lunchrooms and are worried about a sales dip.
Critical thinking challenge: What does Peggy Lawrence mean by healthy trash cans?