School lunches continue to cause a stir - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

School lunches continue to cause a stir

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There have been a large number of complaints from parents and students over the last year about the food their kids are eating at school.

Students are now being asked to eat more fruits and vegetables. Cafeteria staff members are being asked to cook more from scratch meals. And school systems are being told they have to stick to some strict federal nutritional guidelines. The results have been controversial.

"We eat fruit like every day," explained Kimball Elementary student Da'zya Martin when talking about the food she eats in the school cafeteria. "If you eat healthy it will make your bones stronger and stuff."

But the recent restrictions handed down from the federal government aren't sitting as well with some older students.

"With the salad bar most stuff on there doesn't really taste good," said St. Albans High School student Colin Kerwood. "He'd rather have meat like the protein meat and other food that will fill you up more than fruits and vegetables. Those are usually sides," added his sister Paula Kerwood.

Federal guidelines limit elementary school students to less than 650 calories a day for lunch. For middle school students the limit is 700 calories. The restriction for high school students is no more than 850 calories for lunch daily.

"There are calorie limits this year for the meal pattern but that is an average," said Linda St. Clair, with the West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition. "There will be some who take more calories than the limit."

The requirements go even further. They limit the amount of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of the total calories consumed. And school systems are not just told how many vegetables they have to serve, but also how many of each color of vegetable.

Some older students have also embraced the idea of healthier meals. But some complain the restrictions go too far. Some parents and students say the portions are not big enough. We took the question to leaders in Kanawha and Cabell Counties.

"I think that if you look at the tray the portion sizes look fine," said Rhonda McCoy, the Cabell County Director of Food Services.

But Kanawha County Child Nutrition Director Diane Miller said there may be challenges for some students.

"It would be a little trying if they don't like fresh fruits and vegetables," Miller said. "But the variety of the menu should allow every child to seek an option."

There has also been a move recently requiring more meals to be cooked from scratch.

"We don't go to the freezer and pull out a chicken sandwich and heat it up and give it to them," said Cabell Midland Cafeteria Manager Frances Hickman. "Everything is made fresh." Hickman said cooking from scratch helps cut down on sodium and saturated fat.

But parents argue better nutrition will not help children if they do not eat the food.

"I can't force a child to eat," said Miller. "But we can offer a multitude of options on the salad bar or on the meal."

Following a wave of complaints there have been several training sessions for cafeteria workers both on the local and state level. Cooks have shared recipes and tried to improve the taste of the food while sticking to the federal guidelines.

Officials say, despite the controversy, the guidelines are a good thing for the sake of kids.

"What you are looking at is our future," said Hickman. "They are dying off early and we have to do something to keep them from killing themselves."

There are even more changes on the way as well. New breakfast requirements will begin at the start of next school year.

While the federal level Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act spells out many of the guidelines, West Virginia started making the changes before those policies were introduced.