West Salem Panthers

Healthier school lunches - more food waste?

Local school districts say kids are actually eating healthier food

LA CROSSE COUNTY, Wis. (WKBT) - School lunches are more nutritious, but the lunch room garbage cans seem to be what are getting healthier.

It's been about two years since school districts were required to make lunches healthier, but a recent report from the Government Accountability Office finds even though kids are taking fruits and vegetables now, more food is being wasted, and school districts around the country are finding it tougher to plan meals based on the newest standards.

Two local districts said they aren't having that issue, however, and their kids actually like the healthy foods more.

On Wednesday's lunch menu at West Salem Elementary, pizza was a crowd favorite.

The veggies weren't quite as popular, but the district said that's typically not the case.

"We used to cook about 8 pounds a day between our cooked vegetables and our raw vegetables that we offer to kids, and now we're hitting about 50-60 pounds in a day," Kerri Feyen, nutrition services director for the West Salem School District, said.

Feyen admits some foods do go over better than others, but the district is not seeing it in the garbage.

"Kids aren't throwing the food away. It's going into their bellies; they're eating it," Feyen said.

District officials said the important thing is giving kids the option to try something new.

"We ended up going through 60 pounds of brussels sprouts in the month of December -- not a favorite of my own, but we had kids eating brussels sprouts in elementary school, and that alone felt like a monumental feat," Feyen said.

At Hintgen Elementary in La Crosse, kids prefer the healthy foods.

"My favorite vegetable would be broccoli," fifth-grader Ivy Martin said.

"Broccoli!" fifth-grader Joseph Lee said.

The La Crosse School District officials said that's common throughout the district.

"Surprisingly a lot of what we're hearing now is that kids want vegetarian, they want low-fat, they want things to be fresh, they like fresh fruits and vegetables, and so I think that's great," Joni Ralph, supervisor of school nutrition for the La Crosse School District, said.

Ralph said the La Crosse School District dealt with some added waste in the beginning.

"We're taste testing, we're talking to the students, we're reinforcing the message that healthy eating is good for students, and that really is going down a lot," said Ralph.

Both districts said the healthier food standards were necessary, and they are glad they aren't seeing many issues. They said the key to their success is education.

"We just have to put some effort into it and let the students know this is really, really good. It's healthy. These are positive things that are coming about," Ralph said.

Both school districts participate in the Farm to School program, which they said helps get new and more uncommon foods in the lunch room for kids to try.

Both fifth graders said they enjoy trying new foods and want to eat healthy so they can grow up big and strong.

There will be more regulations added to the new health standards for the 2014-2015 school year, such as the requirement all grain foods must be at least 51 percent whole grain.

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