Enquirer Herald

Schools say: ‘Eat your veggies’

Students in York and Clover and other area schools are finding more fresh fruits and veggies on the menu this school year, thanks to recent federal legislation that requires them to take one serving with each school lunch. Students are adapting to the new requirements.

Ten-year-old Jabria Thomasson enjoys eating lots of different fruits and vegetables — carrots, fresh green salads, apples, pineapple, strawberries and even broccoli.

In the cafeteria at York Intermediate School, Jabria can usually find a fresh fruit or vegetable that she wants to eat. School lunch officials hope most of her classmates will, too.

Under changes to the federally subsidized school lunch program, students this year are required to choose at least a half-cup serving of fruits or vegetables or a quarter cup of each. At the high school level, students must choose a full cup of fruits and/or vegetables.

“At first, it was harder to get the students to take it,” said Sandy Brackett, food service director for the York school district. “But now, it has become a routine, so they take it.”

The changes are part of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a landmark piece of legislation that includes a string of reforms to school meals and to the school food environment. The required changes are being phased in over several years.

The legislation upped nutritional standards for the federally reimbursable meals served in school cafeterials, requiring them to meet calorie content targets and to gradually increase whole-grain breads and cut down on sodium.

For the current school year, Brackett said, the greatest change was a new requirement that all students take a single serving of fruits or vegetables with each school lunch.

Nyla Mcelhaney, 10, said she likes it when the cafeteria lunch includes collard greens and apples. “I like broccoli,” Nyla said as she went through the line. “I like lettuce and celery.”

Darrius Sowell, 10, likes celery and broccoli, too, but he doesn’t like spinach.

The menu changes daily, so students have different options from which to choose, said Debbie Gibby, cafeteria manager at York Intermediate. Corn and green beans are among the students’ favorite veggies, she said, while lima beans, cabbage and broccoli are less popular among the students.

Gibby also said a wide variety of fresh and canned fruits are served — apples, applesauce, fruit cups, oranges, bananas and pears. Strawberries and peaches also are served in season, she said.

“We give them so many choices, that they don’t have a problem with finding something they like,” she said.

Gibby said students who get to the end of the lunch serving line and who still don’t have a fruit or veggie on their plate are asked to choose an apple or other piece of fresh fruit from a bowl that is placed there.

Matt Brown, assistant superintendent with York school, said waste is a concern because of the requirement that certain foods must go on a plate. But Gibby said she doesn’t see a lot of waste.

“My biggest concern is that sometimes food goes on a tray that the students don’t care for,” said Brown. “They may not particularly like fruits or vegetables, and that may end up being waste.

“But in order for it to be a countable meal, they have to have the opportunity to eat those and we hope they do,” Brown said. “We encourage them to, but we can’t make them.”

Brown said the York district began making changes to its lunch program last school year, serving more whole-grain breads and providing potable water in the cafeteria. By the 2014-15 school year, all breads must be whole grain.

“We tried to get on board early and start doing some things so we would be in compliance as we went along, and so our students wouldn’t see a big change,” he said. “But there is a change there.”

Brackett said making the changes gradually has been effective. “We didn’t want to throw it on the students all at one time, so we tried to phase it in, and it has actually helped,” she said.