Fenton - School districts across America will have to serve healthier meals to students in the next few years.
Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), schools will have to update their nutrition standards to match the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. More fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat milk must be served with school lunches. Sodium, trans fat and saturated fat levels must be lower in all meals by the 2014/2015 school year.
The Fenton school district has revamped its school lunch menu over the past few years to meet the upcoming standards. Jaymi Whalen, food service director for Fenton schools, said getting students to eat healthier might be a challenge for school officials.
"It's going to bring about some big changes," Whalen said at Monday's school board meeting. "We have such a bad rap that school meals are unhealthy. I'm not saying that there are not unhealthy meals, but for the most part, they are (healthy)."
Whalen said a salad bar is available at every school and all pizzas in the district are made with whole-grain crust and low-fat cheese. Chicken nuggets and fries are baked instead of fried. Milk has been reduced to 1 percent fat, and whole grains are mixed with most pastas.
Despite the healthier meals already implemented into the schools, Whalen foresees potential problems with the new mandates. Students will be served whole-grain foods and will have to order one fruit or vegetable with every lunch.
"Right now, if you put whole-wheat pasta in front of them, they will not eat it," Whalen said. "That's when we see our lunch lines go down - when there's brown pasta."
Board member Tamara Valley was concerned about the amount of waste the school could potentially see from students refusing to eat fruits and vegetables. Whalen said that while there may be a huge amount of waste, the school district does offer a wide variety of healthy foods that will hopefully attract students to eat at least one fruit or vegetable a day.
"I'm sure the wide selection will cut down on some of the waste you're experiencing," said Superintendent Timothy Jalkanen. "I'm sure with the new guidelines, this is all going into the direction we want to head toward, especially with problems like childhood obesity."
Whalen agreed and said the school district will continue to work toward creating a healthier meal for students. "We don't count pizza sauce as a vegetable," Whalen joked.