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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Grocery line decisions will affect school lunch line preferences

Whenever the subject of childhood obesity comes up, someone will say, "They ought to do something about school lunches."

Well, they have, at least in School District 833, but kids still have too much access before and after school to cheese puffs, chips and French fries.

The changes in school lunch have been taking place for about two decades. Sugary drinks were the first to go. Kids didn't complain about less pizza being offered, but they were upset for a time about the drinks, District 833 Nutrition Services staff told me.

My favorite in school was hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes, but it wouldn't make any school menu these days because it's full of fat and salt.

Kathryn Grafsgaard, director of Nutrition Services, gave a report to the South Washington County School Board last week about her department and some of the trends.

The district serves 1,148 breakfasts a day and 9,660 lunches, down from 9,800 last year.

There are several reasons for this including a 10-cent rise in price ordered by the federal Department of Agriculture, and changes in lunches that are seeing an increase in a la carte sales.

The income from a la carte sales helps to support Nutrition Services but Grafsgaard and her staff want kids to eat regular school lunches because they're more nutritious.

The calorie counts, set by the government, are lower. Fat has been going away for a while. There are more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. That white bread has whole grains. You and the kids just can't see them. And there is less salt.

It's what you asked them to do.

But when you show a child a green bean who has never seen one before, you can't expect that he or she will eat it willingly. Change has been slow.

You probably have someone in your family who will not eat vegetables or hates fruit. We have a non-onion eater at our house. Changing those preferences is hard and in some cases, impossible.

It took two years for me to persuade my family to give up green bean casserole in favor of fresh green beans with mustard, butter and a sprinkling of bacon bits.

There's still some fat but a lot less than in canned soups.

But I've noticed changes in school lunch acceptance, especially in elementary schools. They choose salads and eat their fruit, especially if it's already cut into pieces. Nutrition Services said they doubled the amount of fruit kids will eat when they cut it up.

According to Joan Larson, Middleton Middle School kitchen manager, 80 percent of the kids are accepting the changes.

Gaining traction are green beans, Grafsgaard said. Apparently high school kids really like them. In a move to buy more local fruits and vegetables, her department spent $2,375 last year buying them locally.

In a survey, parents said they want more variety in fruits and vegetables, but I'm not sure about that. Kids love strawberries. If they'll try kiwi fruit, great, but twice a week they should get strawberries.

To help out, try taking a pass on the chips and head for produce on your next trip to the grocery store.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600