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School Lunches: Before and After

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At the beginning of this school year, districts all across the nation had to make major changes to the types of food they serve in school lunches. It is the first time in 15 years that the standards for student meals have been updated.

In 2010 President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which is just taking effect now. It put into place a new set of USDA requirements for school lunches, making them healthier, more varied, and in some cases, smaller.

So for the first day of National School Lunch Week, we take a look at exactly what WCSD students have been eating, before and after the changes.

Kids voluntarily eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and actually choosing a salad for lunch, is a sight that might be hard for a lot of parents to believe. But that is the picture at public school all across the Silver State this year.

"A child eating broccoli is not mission impossible," Nevada Department of Education Nutrition Specialist Catrina Peters said.

But a few years ago, that might have seemed impossible. Back then, school lunches were higher in starches, contained more sugar, more fat, and featured fruits and vegetables from a can.

Now, the iconic plastic trays hold fresh broccoli, spinach salad, whole fruits, and whole grains. A lunch now has to have at least one cup each of fruits and vegetables, half of the grains must be whole grains, and schools can only offer a grain-based dessert once or twice a week.

"A lot the menu items are still staying roughly the same," Peters said. "We are just increasing the number of fruits and vegetables, and maybe making the portion sizes a little more appropriate for that age group."

That  means little changes, like corn dogs are now turkey corn dogs, and macaroni and cheese  is made with whole wheat pasta.

But the changes aren't going over smoothly everywhere. Students at a New Jersey high school organized a protest over the new menu, saying the lunches are too small. One group of students even made a satirical video showing kids collapsing from hunger while playing sports.

In Washoe County though, opposition has been hard to find. That's partly because the school district started making these changes a few years ago, even before it was required. And it's a change administrators said was badly needed, with a significant percentage of our students above the recommended weight.

"To have one third of our student population at what is considered obese," WCSD Director of Nutrition Services Tony Cook said, "that is a pretty significant issue."

But things are changing. Now, when you watch the lunch line at Hidden Valley Elementary School, where more than half of the kids get hot lunch every day, you see kids who have embraced the new foods.

In fact, Washoe County students eat about 3,000 salads every day. That is 3,000 more than they were eating three years ago.

"These changes may seem simple," Peters said, "but they're really going to lead to huge benefits down the road."

Washoe County School District is putting on some special events and programs as part of National School Lunch Week.. For a list of those, and to check out the new menu for the school district, click here.

Written by Arianna Bennett
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