It's taken some time for food preparers and students at area schools to adjust to the "Healthy, Hunger Free Kids" nutrition guidelines mandated by the federal government.
From menu organization to food preparation to students choosing to eat or not to eat, the process of digesting the new requirements has tested staff and students.
The nutrition program calls for less sodium, more whole grains and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables on the side as well as very specific portion amounts for each food group of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain and milk.
"I appreciate the intent. I like seeing all the fresh fruit and vegetables," said USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton. "I believe there are a lot of unhealthy food choices for kids."
The program is a good introduction to better nutrition especially if students don't get that choice at home, Patton said.
All vegetables are divided into specific categories and the food staff has to make sure students have been offered enough servings of each category by the end of the week.
Nutrition requirements mean more fruit and vegetable preparation time, said Sharon Ward, director of USD 382 food service.
"The staff has been very busy just to get it all in place," Ward said.
The number of calories per meal is now strictly regulated. Before the new guidelines kitchen staff could go well above the new limit.
The total number of calories for grade groups is also strictly controlled and the total number of calories has dropped. With fewer carbohydrates, active students, especially those involved in sports, can go home hungry at the end of the day, Ward said.
One of the problems with the new requirements is that some students just won't eat what is put on the tray. It's tough to get students to eat items from the dark green vegetables list, said Skyline Food Director Cindi Christensen.
The program allows more fruit and vegetables on salad bars but it requires meat taken out of the salad bar.
With all the new requirements, food directors have a bigger responsibility in meal planning. Food directors had to do some homework before school began to make sure they knew the program.
"It hasn't been easy. I went to a special class for this," Christensen said. "But it has gotten easier to understand."
Because the amount of each food group varies with the class groups, some older students get food the younger students can't get. For example, on days they have pasta, grade school students can't get a roll with the meal but the high school can because they get more calories, Christensen said.
The reduction in calories can actually cause very active students to lose weight. If they are trying to gain weight for a sport but instead go home hungry it defeats the purpose, said Skyline Superintendent Mike Sanders.
Page 2 of 3 - If a student is weak from lack of calories that also makes the student vulnerable to injury. Middle school students are going through growth spurts and need the extra calories also.
Because it is a mandated program, the school menu has to go to the state to verify the school is serving the proper amounts of food. If the district doesn't comply they will lose funding.
If a school wanted to, they could opt not to do the program but they would get no funding from the state and that would make it cost prohibitive, Sanders said.
Students are also adjusting to the new nutrition guidelines. At Pratt High School Cassie Van Slyke said pasta upset her digestive system and she couldn't eat it. For her there were not enough vegetables available. She did like having bottled water available for lunch.
Dani Grey said she didn't like the food, the macaroni and cheese was too liquid and it just didn't taste the same. She wanted more breads and pasta.
Shawn Ramos said he was kind of picky and wanted more variety. Trae Foreman said he enjoyed having alternatives but they sometimes ran out of food.
At Skyline Brandon Baird didn't like the cutback in portions so he just brought his lunch from home. Brandon Abbott wanted bigger helpings and more protein. The food just didn't taste the same.
Kadi Richardson said people were going home hungry or going to McDonald's and that was just as bad as the old menu. Janessa Davis was so hungry she brought extra food from home.
Shannon Neifert liked having more flavors and having more fruit but she did want more meat because after athletic practice she was very hungry.
First Lady Michelle Obama was a staunch advocate for the bill that was designed to help fight obesity in school children.
Her efforts did not impress one kindergarten student from Skyline who went home and told her parents she would not vote for (Michelle) Obama because she didn't like the new menu, Sanders said.
While the new nutrition guide addresses obesity, the lower calorie count isn't helping the healthy students, especially the athletes.
"It's not addressing the needs of the kids that are healthy," Patton said. "One size fits all is not meeting all the needs."
But offering a better diet to students is not the same thing as students eating the food. District principals report that students just leave the food on the table if they don't like it, Patton said.
Its going to take some time to educate students about eating better and hopefully, those that do eat better will convince their friends to eat better too.
Page 3 of 3 - For now, the nutrition guide does not affect breakfast next year all grains have to be whole grain and more fruit will be required, Ward said.
Sacred Heart Holy Child School gets its meals from USD 382. Students haven't said much about the change although students did notice the whole grain tortilla wrap and several students came back for more vegetables, especially the broccoli. None of the students have come in and said they were hungry, said Sherry Morford, Sacred Heart food service manager.
The new nutrition requirements do not impact secondary education institutions such as Pratt Community College.