- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two years in, schools are having mixed success putting new healthier school lunch rules in place.

Some report that students are excited about a variety of healthier options and have barely noticed the changes. Others say some kids are throwing fruits and vegetables away and balking at whole grains.

The requirements are part of a government effort to make school lunches and breakfasts healthier. Championed by first lady Michelle Obama, the new standards have been phased in over the last two school years, with more changes coming in 2014.

Some schools are asking Congress and the Agriculture Department to roll back some of the requirements. Their main concerns: finding enough whole grain-rich foods that kids like, lowering sodium levels and keeping fruits and vegetables from ending up in the trash.

Not all schools are required to follow the requirements, but most do. If they don’t, they won’t receive government subsidies that partially reimburse schools for free and low-cost lunches for low-income kids.

In Virginia’s Alexandria City Public Schools, school nutrition director Becky Domokos-Bays says students have adapted to whole grain rolls and pizza crusts, but have so far rejected whole grain pastas. Starting next school year, pasta and other grain products in schools will have to be whole-grain rich, or more than half whole grain.

Here’s how five other school districts are doing:

OHIO: CINCINNATI PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Jessica Shelly, food service director at Cincinnati’s urban public schools, says she started serving healthier foods in her lunchrooms years before the government standards were required, so it has been easier for kids to adjust.

She has seen increased participation by enthusiastically highlighting the new menus with kids. She says salad bars with lots of variety - pickle slices, banana peppers, different kinds of beans, for example - give kids healthy options and also the sense that they are creating their own meals.

And as the standards require reduced sodium, she has set up a “spice bar” with seasonings like lemon pepper, garlic herb and cumin to make foods more flavorful.

GEORGIA: WARE COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM

In rural Southeast Georgia, Stephanie Taylor, director of school nutrition for the Ware County School System, says she doesn’t have much of a selection from food service vendors. She has had a hard time finding tasty whole grain rich biscuits and grits, and would like to occasionally serve the white flour versions. Starting this fall, she won’t be able to do that.

Taylor agrees that school lunches needed improvement and says kids have been more accepting as industry has formulated better tasting healthy foods.

She worries, however, that negative publicity about the revised menus may make kids less likely to try them. Unhealthy eating patterns outside of school make her job harder as well.

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