The rules are about to change in the school cafeteria. On Wednesday, the USDA issued new standards for school breakfast and lunches. It is the first major overhaul of school meals in 15-years.
The rules mean children will be eating less greasy, salty, and sugary foods. It is part of a push to curb the childhood obesity epidemic. The Jackson County School District does not expect to have a problem meeting the stricter guidelines.
During lunch at St. Martin East Elementary School Wednesday, most children were reaching for the Chicken Fried Steak. While some children chose the Chef Salad.
"Because it's good," said third grader Tristen Brewer.
"It's healthy," said third grader Madison Davis.
Fresh salads and fruits and vegetables will become more common in the cafeteria. They are part of new federal standards that require schools to offer more produce, whole grain foods, as well as fat-free and low-fat milk. It is a move the Jackson County School District supports.
"In Mississippi, we have the highest obesity rate in the nation and we have to be aggressive," said Lark Christian, Food Service Director for the Jackson County School District.
"We began a few years ago to incorporate whole grains, lower fat milk. Even our pizza is whole grain now. Some of the things we've done very slowly so the children will be used to them, so it should be easy for us to meet these guidelines," she added.
The school district is also in the process of getting rid of all of its fryers. Right now, four schools in the district have combi-ovens, which means foods are baked instead of fried. But by 2014, all 13 schools in the district will have the combi-ovens.
Their efforts to serve nutritious meals have already paid off. In 2010, all 13 Jackson County schools won Healthier U.S. School Challenge Awards.
First trader Baylee Trosclair likes her school meals.
"Because it has lots of fruits and vegetables that can help you get healthier," she said.
And educators believe better eating habits will boost academic performance.
"When a child has eaten a good healthy food, they are in the classroom ready to learn," said Christian.
The guidelines also limit the total number of calories in a meal, based on the student's age. The new rules go into effect in July, and will be phased-in over three years.
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