Students warming up to healthier lunch options

So long soda and fried foods. An initiative to promote nutrition has schools offering healthier lunch choices.

August 8, 2011 

  • $1.95

    School lunch cost for Beaufort County School District middle- and high-schoolers

    $1.45

    School lunch cost for Beaufort County School District elementary school children

    10 cents

    Increase in the cost of a public school lunch compared to last year

    54

    Percentage of Beaufort County School District students who qualify for free- or reduced-price meal benefits

    170

    Number of student nutrition department staff members in Beaufort County's 32 public schools

Pizza and chicken nuggets -- the reigning king and queen of school lunch.

It's true, confirms Larry Wilson, area manager of Sodexo, the Beaufort County School District's food service contractor: The kid's meal standards remain unsurprising favorites among students. But perhaps they no longer live up to their greasy, junk-food reputations.

The pizza is made with whole-grain crust and low-fat, part-skim mozzarella cheese. The nuggets are covered in whole-grain breading and baked -- not fried.

It's part of the HealthierUS School Challenge, a national initiative to promote nutrition and create healthy environments for children. The district implemented the program -- part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign -- two years ago. All fried food (including the ubiquitous french fry) was eliminated. White flour products were replaced with whole-grain flour. Foods with "minimum nutritional values" (i.e. soda, chocolate bars) were pulled from vending machines.

There wasn't much bellyaching from students. Although lunch sales dipped at first, Wilson said, they bounced back within a year. Now students are gravitating to more nutritious fare.

"We're seeing students coming back and buying an apple or buying an orange, getting a side salad to go with their lunch," Wilson said.

The schools also have worked to instill healthy habits in young students. Menus reflect lesson plans on food and nutrition. Curious about a chicken nugget's calorie count? Nutrition facts are posted on cafeteria walls. (It's 230 for a five-nugget serving.) Sodexo also plans to make the information available online once this year's nutrient analysis is complete, wellness manager Donna Brazil said.

Students are on board with the changes, Wilson said. Recent meetings with students revealed requests for more salads, soups and healthy options. Although it might not be as popular as pizza, the spinach salad with grilled chicken is a top-seller -- and Wilson's personal favorite.

"It's bearing some fruit. Students are dialing into it," Wilson said.

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