Raleigh, N.C. — School lunches are getting a little healthier with new nutrition guidelines, but school system administrators say healthier menu options could pose challenges.
The new rules, officially announced Wednesday by first lady Michelle Obama, mean school lunches subsidized by the federal government will include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fewer calories and less sodium in an effort to fight childhood obesity.
Marilyn Moody, senior director of the Wake County Public School System's Child Nutrition Services, said she is excited to see the changes, many of which the district has been working to implement over the past several years, such as whole wheat pizza dough.
One of the challenges, however, is getting students to opt for the healthier choices, Moody said. It's a bigger problem in high schools, where students have more options, including off-campus dining.
Another problem, Moody said, is getting the funding to pay for more nutritional alternatives.
A child nutrition bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 will help school districts pay for some of the increased costs, but it's still unclear how much extra it will cost and where that money will come from. It could possibly come from cuts in other areas of the school budget, or parents could have to pay more.
That has parents split on the issue.
"I don't really want it to cost more," grandparent Dan Girard said. "If you can (do it) without costing more, that would be great."
"I think, when it comes to your child's nutrition, a couple dollars isn't a big deal," mother Emily Drew said.
In addition to moving toward healthier options, Moody said, the school system has applied for its 103 elementary schools to be a part of the HealthierUS School Challenge, an initiative in which schools implement wellness policies focusing on physical activity, nutritional education and healthier meals that include less fat, sugar and sodium.
More than 2,100 schools across the United States are part of the challenge, but only 13 of those are in North Carolina.
The program doesn't currently offer any kind of funding or incentives for being a healthy school, but Moody said it is more about gaining the recognition.