PLATTE CITY, Mo. - New federal guidelines promise to improve the nutritional value of school meals, and so far students seem to approve.
To comply with the new norms, Platte County Middle School in Platte City now serves school lunches differently.
Gone are the days when students went through the cafeteria line and took plates loaded down with the offering of the day. Now, it's more like a buffet.
Kids go to the entree line for a serving of now leaner meat and sides, serving items like chicken patties with or without a bun, mashed potatoes and green beans. Students could then go to a fruit bar to scoop up cantaloupe, pears, kiwi or other fruit.
The new guidelines, which went into effect July 1, set strict guidelines for what schools serve kids to eat. Schools must:
As they navigate the cafeteria, the kids pick what they want. Eighth grader Britanie Stewart said she often brings her own lunch, and prefers the new system on days when she buys her lunch.
"I think it's better because there's a ton of fruit and vegetable options, so if you're kind of picky about what you want, you can get something that you like," Stewart said.
Other students agree. Fellow eighth grader Alyssa Bradley said she never used to pick fruits or vegetables, even though they have always been an option.
"I just kind of bypassed the idea of fruits and vegetables at school," Bradley said. "They're making us eat healthier so it'll help us be energized during the day."
Audrey Hackler, another eighth grader, also would usually skip the fruits. On Wednesday, however, she tried hummus for the first time.
"They had hummus and it was really good," Hackler said.
Alex Kelsey, also in the eighth grade, said she also would usually pass on the plants. But now she feels better about herself when she makes better choices.
"I don't feel like I'm pigging out on chips and stuff. I'm eating healthier, and I'm eating fruits and vegetables that are good for you," Kelsey said.
While students have can choose what fruit or vegetable to have, they must take something. If they try to check out without at least one serving of a fruit or vegetable, they will have to go back and get one.
The USDA noted giving kids access to healthy meals is good for them, both in and out of the classroom. USDA Special Nutrition Programs Director Darlene Sanchez said the fact that kids do better in school when they're well-fed was a major factor in updating the standards.
"Healthy school environments, healthy kids just adds up to just a winning combination for children in the community because they are healthier," Sanchez said.
That's why, Sanchez said, representatives from the USDA visited Platte County Middle School to see how the guidelines were working out. She said they were pleased to see how receptive the kids were to getting better lunches.
For the school's part, they want the kids to learn good all-around lifestyle habits, which is why they also do more physical education and stress overall health. In a health fair held at the school on Wednesday, students could learn about how high-fat diets affect your health, hear from a University of Missouri Extension representative about fresh produce and even test a new veggie pizza that they may soon see in the cafeteria.
"We can educate our kids into healthy lifestyle choices, both with what they're putting in their body and how they're treating their body in regard to healthy diet and exercise," said Dr. Rob Gardner, Platte County assistant superintendent.
Gardner said school administrators have spent time having lunch with the kids, asking them what they do and don't like about the new system. He said they generally like it, and also said they've noticed that as kids are able to take more of the types of foods they like to eat, less of it ends up in the trash.
One challenge Gardner said the district faces is that meeting the new standards is more expensive. Some help comes in the law that established the standards, in higher reimbursements to districts for each meal they serve that meets the goals. He said the district is willing to absorb the rest of the higher costs because of how well he said good nutrition fits in with their overall mission of educating children.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
More Education News
The Kansas Board of Regents has approved tuition increases at public universities that will have some students paying nearly 9 percent more this fall.