Allie Martin

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Schools Adjusting To Healthier Lunches

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – It’s lunchtime at Joyner Elementary and as always, students have healthy selections.

“We’re offering today a whole grain pasta, that’s Italian rotini, we also have a whole grain roll, we have sandwich that’s grilled chicken on a whole grain bun,” said Lynne Rogers, Foodservice director for the Tupelo Public School District.

School lunch menus nationwide have undergone a transformation since 2010. That’s when the “Healthy Hunger Free Students Act” was passed. The goal is simple, to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables by students. That means major changes in food that is served to students, and also how that food is prepared.

For instance, in the kitchen at Joyner, the deep fryer is still there, but hasn’t been used in years.

Now, a braising pan sees frequent use.

Along with ushering in a new set of food groups, the  federal guidelines also mandate maximum calorie levels.

“I would say that has been probably a big challenge for most districts is making sure you’re analyzing and not exceeding the maximum calorie level, which is also affected the fact that students are not getting desserts like they used to,” Rogers said.

Instead, students get cups of fruit and vegetables.

Students we spoke with say the lunch selections are not only healthy, but also tasty.

What’s your favorite thing they serve here? “Chicken noodle soup,” said Nya, a second grader.

Why is it important to eat healthy? “Because you won’t get sick and you can be strong and healthy,” said Second Grader Henry.

What did you eat today? “Grilled chicken sandwich,” said Second Grader Kyresc.

Administrators believe the push for healthier lunches can have a lifelong impact.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of healthy habits develop for a lifetime from the start of good nutrition habits in the lunchroom,” said Rogers.

There are still some changes in store under the new guidelines. Next year all breakfasts served at schools will be overhauled and eventually all breads will be whole grain. Officials say the changes can only be positive, especially in states like Mississippi where childhood obesity has been a problem for generations.