By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
FULTON, Ill. —
Despite the strict national school lunch guidelines, students are gobbling up fruits and vegetables with little complaints, according to River Bend school officials.
While implementing the new program was a struggle initially for River Bend students, problems are few and far between these days.
“We have a lot of kids who actually want to eat healthy and prefer the fresh produce instead of canned,” River Bend School District Cafeteria Manager Peggy Kilburg said. “Some kids actually grab fruit first to make sure they get some before it runs out.”
The new school lunch program was pushed forward this school year by First Lady Michelle Obama in an effort to address childhood obesity. This includes increasing not only the amount of fruits and vegetables, but the variety and providing them fresh instead of canned.
The program also has caloric values for students by grade level.
Several other guidelines involving breakfast and lowering sodium content will be phased in over the next few years. While the program is outlined, it is easier said then done. Just last week, the USDA sent out a new policy that requires schools to offer more meats and breads, which is a challenge while remaining within the calorie requirements, local school officials said.
“Once you get one thing figured out, they change something else,” Kilburg said.
Despite the change to more health conscious meals, students have eaten school lunch as much as usual if not more so.
“We often run out of food,” Fulton High School head cook Debby Cossman said. “They are complaining less and the lunch count is up. We had chicken noodle soup the other day and they ate every last noodle.”
The meals also are opening new possibilities for kids.
“Now kids are trying things they might have never tried and often they actually like it,” River Bend Middle School head cook Carolyn Meurs said.
District wellness committee members gathered to discuss lunch choices at a meeting Wednesday. Supplementing hungry students with a la carte options, while emphasizing the reimbursable main meals, remained one of the biggest concerns.
Many of the a la carte options have been discontinued or limited due to the rules. Educators, cooks and other wellness committee members want to offer options for those still hungry after eating the regular lunch, while discouraging them from simply relying on the non-reimbursable options.
The committee is looking into offering protein bars, V8 juice, Gatorade, baked chips and cookies as a la carte options. A new alternate lunch will be added at Fulton High School starting in January.
“At first the new program led to a heated discussion, but now the focus on healthier meals has been accepted,” Superintendent Chuck Holliday said. “We just need to work on supplementing the meal program while supporting it at the same time.”