BURNSVILLE, Minn. - When students go back to school in a couple weeks, they'll notice some a big change in the cafeteria. Meals will be healthier.
These are the first significant changes to the school lunch program in more than 15 years.
Kids will notice fruits and veggies front and center in the school lunch line, alongside smaller portions of grains.
The USDA's new healthier school meals standards now require schools nationwide to offer lunches with fewer calories, less sodium, and half the grains to be whole grains.
These are changes they've made at Sky Oaks Elementary in Burnsville.
Roxanne Williams is Director of Food Services for the Burnsville Eagan Savage School District #191. "The biggest change will be an increase in the portion of fruits and veggies," said Williams.
As she ate lunch on Tuesday, second grader Brooke said, "I love vegetables."
Her friend, second grader Shantell said, "We're eating healthier and it's good for our bodies."
USDA Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe flew in to stop at Sky Oaks Elementary during lunch. She said she hopes the changes will reduce obesity and the diseases that often go along with it including diabetes and high blood pressure.
Rowe said, "These programs for these children, if we can get them early, they will learn a healthy lifestyle and they will avoid a lot of those illnesses."
While Williams said shaping a young child's intake of healthy foods shouldn't be tough, high school students may have a tough time with the new, smaller portion sizes.
She said, "They're hungry and they're used to larger portions. We used to have extra bread too that we put out. But no longer."
One of the challenges for schools to get kids to eat more vegetables is to make them more appealing.
At Sky Oaks Elementary they serve roasted squash with parmesan and something called beets and sweets, with sweet potatoes, that the kids actually love.
Julie Pettes' kids love them. As a parent at Sky Oaks she is very happy with the changes.
She said, "I think Tracy, our cook, has done a marvelous job. I've gotten some of the vegetable recipes from her."
Those at the USDA hope the nation will be even happier with the eventual results.
Rowe said, "We're hoping that we'll look back and see that we've ended childhood obesity in this generation."
The USDA is giving districts six cents more per meal per student to cover the higher costs of fresh produce. It's also suggesting schools work with local farmers and plant school gardens to lower costs.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)