As long as school lunch programs have existed, fresh fruits and vegetables have never fared well against hamburgers, chicken fingers and heavily processed foods. For every apple bitten and green bean eaten, dozens more have ended up in the trash can.
Thus, it's no surprise that new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- intented to replace the greasy pizza and salty fries that students love with healthful food -- is resulting in even more wasted food. A 2013 study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that 40 percent of all lunches served were wasted.
To its credit, the Beaufort County School District is working hard, attempting to set youngsters' taste buds to fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting sodium, calories and fat. School cafeteria workers are using more spices and fresh herbs. Several chefs worked with district cooks during the summer, showing them new healthful recipes.
We applaud the district's creative efforts to provide students with tasty, nutritious meals. But more work can be done.
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School systems around the country have reported success by teaching students about healthful foods in the classroom or taking field trips to farms, then offering produce in the cafeteria and on salad bars.
Others are planting gardens where students grow and harvest fruits and vegetables.
And cafeteria cooks are re-inventing kids' food favorites. For example, pizza can be made with a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese and vegetable toppings. Some schools report their students enjoy turkey hot dogs just as much as the old ones.
Other schools are featuring a vegetable of the month, making a production out of the serving of the new food -- and giving curious elementary students their first taste of healthful veggies they don't get served at home.
Equally encouraging is the national movement to bring fresh foods from nearby farms into cafeterias. Beaufort County has already joined. Eighteen Lowcountry producers will provide local fare through the "Farm to School" program in coming years. St. Helena Elementary School students became the first participants in the county's program in February, getting a taste of collard greens grown less than a mile away.
The school lunch may never be cool. We fully anticipate a sizable amount of broccoli and bunches of bananas will still end up in the dumpster. But that doesn't mean schools should do the bare minimum to meet the new standards.
Beaufort County schools are on the right track, seeking creative ways to get kids to eat better.
We look forward to the next helping.