TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - School officials trying to reverse or at least slow down the obesity trend among children say they are pleasantly surprised what kids will eat.
School cafeterias across the country began serving up newly constructed meals this school year.
At Farley Elementary, cafeteria staff this Wednesday served up chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, rolls and lots of leafy greens, celery, carrots and fruits from a salad bar.
"Before we were just required to serve a meal," Stan Vallis, food services supervisor for USD 437, said.
Now that meal must include very specific components, he said. Schools are required to serve healthier choices under a new US Department of Agriculture requirement, as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
What does that means? "More vegetables, less breads, more fruits. And fresh fruits," Vallis said.
The new nutrition standards require schools to offer both fruits and vegetables every day, more whole grain-rich foods, only low or nonfat milk and reduced amounts of saturated fats, trans-fats, sugars and sodium.
Meal sizes are also tailored to be age-appropriate, limiting calorie counts based on students' age groups.
Farley's food services supervisor says students are eating it up.
"The K-3 kids are really surprising, because they just love it, They get in their and shovel all ..as long as there's ranch dressing, it's good to go," Vallis said.
Critics however say the new standards are leaving some kids, especially active ones hungry at the end of the day.
"Some of the older kids don't buy into the fruit and vegetable programs quite as well," Vallis said. "They really need to do salads and fruits to complete their meal and their not into the eating habits of that. So that's why it's so important to have the grade school level tuned in to eating this product."
Tammy Bartels, president of the Kansas Parent Teacher Association says the changes may be harder to digest for parents than for their children.
"I do know that there are some parents who are concerned about the changes, because change is always a little bit scary," she said. "But as long as they know change is about getting their kids healthier, they'll embrace it eventually."
She said her sixth-grade son has embraced the choices provided with the new meals. "He eats constantly," she said. "He's not complained baout being hungry at all," she said, adding that she's also gives him a healthy snack for the afternoon.
"He's really enjoyed having the new choices.
Bartels says the new requirements are not just forming healthy habits among students, but are showing parents how to have healthier meals at home as well.
The National PTA, USDA and teh Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project are jointly hosting a webinar Thursday, September 13 at 6 p.m., to answer parents' questions about the new meal standards. The webcast is said to feature the White House chef and First Lady Michelle Obama. Visit http://www.pta.org/5279.htm for more information.