Where Are the Vegetables?

By KBJR News 1

February 10, 2012 Updated Feb 13, 2012 at 12:05 PM CST

More fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Less salt, calories and fat. That's what the federal government is demanding of school cafeterias come the start of the next school year.

But how are Twin Ports schools faring when it comes to keeping up with these new rules and keeping our kids healthy?

We begin this two part series with a look at Superior schools.

Trays shuffle down the lunch line at Great Lakes Elementary in Superior.

And these kids seem to love the offerings.

"They always make the best food because its whole grain and I like it because it's whole grain," says one first grader.

They're not easy to please either. These students like their food delicious and nutritious, and they say that's exactly what they get in this cafeteria--healthy food.

"They're all healthy and it's all my favorite foods," says another girl.

"We get fresh carrots and good stuff. Healthy. Very healthy stuff," another first grader adds.

The woman dishing out these meals to Great Lakes students has been at it for sixteen years.

In that time, she's seen a lot of change.

"There's a lot less breading on items, a lot more fruits and vegetables."

And that's just to name a few of the changes that the Superior School District has made in the last few years in anticipation of new Federal School Lunch standards.

Beginning this July, school cafeterias will have to more than double their fruit and vegetable offerings, including always offering a vegetable not just a fruit. They must Switch to at least 51% whole grains by July of this year. And offer only fat-free chocolate milk, and one percent or skim regular milk.

By 2014, these standards will tighten even further. By then, schools will have to serve all whole wheat carbohydrates. Something Great Lakes Elementary says they are already doing.

According to a sample chart authored by the USDA, before the changes a typical school lunch might include a bean and cheese burrito, canned oranges, two percent chocolate milk, and orange juice. With the new regulations, a lunch would look more like this: whole wheat pasta with meat marinara sauce, whole wheat roll, cantaloupe, green bell pepper, cooked carrots, and skim milk.

"It's a fine line, where we're trying to fit in the government standards with what the children will eat so it takes a lot of practice and trial and error on our part," says Linda Johnson, the assistant cook.

But these changes are something that the Superior School District says they are warmly accepting.

"So much of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act is good nutrition policy anyway. Who wouldn't want to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables to kids? So we started doing that," says Director of Food Service for the Superior School District Jeanne Hopkins

But Superior still struggles with their healthy menu.

On the day we visited the school, there was no vegetable offered at lunch. Nor was there any whole fruit in sight. What there was was orange juice and apple sauce, which according to government standards, count as a serving of fruit.

That is something that concerns registered dietitian, Lisa Spooner.

"When we don't see fruits and vegetables in there then that tells me that they're probably eating something else that probably isn't as healthy for them."

Spooner says the school lunch is extremely important for children because it is not only nourishing their brain for a day full of physical and mental activity, but it is setting the foundation for their dietary habits.

And although they are already serving all whole grains, along with one percent and skim milk, Superior Schools know they aren't completely up to standards.

"We still have a ways to go with this," says Jeanne Hopkins. She admits they still need to cut sodium and calorie levels, but thinks they're off to a great start.

And when we asked Linda if the new standards are a good thing, she was not hesitant in her support of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.

We asked if she thought they would still be serving canned fruits, breaded meats, and white bread at lunch if it wasn't for the new federal rules.

"Unfortunately I think we would. Sometimes you just get stuck in a rut."

It seems to be consensus in this kitchen. Jeanne also believes the standards are a good thing.

"It's all about learning lifetime habits of healthy eating."

Cook Linda says they test out new veggies by giving kids a sample and seeing how they react.

If they like it, they will include it in the regular menu going forward.

"What I've found is that when we have different vegetables that they've gone home and told their parents they want them to buy those."

Introducing these children to vegetables and fruits that they may not get at home is something that Linda recognizes as very important.

"We are educating the children who in turn are educating their parents," she says.

Click here to see the other story in this series, looking at Duluth Public School lunches

Courtney Godfrey
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