MONROE -- One month into their school year, year-round students at Shiloh Elementary School have a new lunchtime protocol down to a science.
The school is one of the tens of thousands around the country adjusting to new federal guidelines requiring kids to take a fruit or vegetable at lunch. The initiative also incorporates more whole grains and healthier milk choices.
"That's one of the great things about having year-round schools,” said Denise Lamar, the director of child nutrition at Union County Public Schools. “We can go ahead and pilot this a little bit.”
The district welcomes back regular calendar students Aug. 27.
Lamar thinks it's a great way to introduce kids to healthy eating habits but says it comes at a significant cost. She says it will cost the district roughly $1 million this year to supply the extra fruits and veggies alone. While federal funding provides an additional 6 cents per meal, she says that still puts the district back close to $800,000.
"We did raise prices a nickel, but the nickel is not going to offset the cost of the new standards," she said.
"There are lots of challenges that we have to overcome and we've had to do it really quickly,” added John Arrowood, a registered dietician with the district.
Arrowood says it will take time for kids to turn to these healthy options. For the time being, younger students are following a color-coded star system in the lunch-line to make sure they get what they should. But he's concerned with the amount of food that is being wasted everyday, because the district can't force a child to actually eat.
"It's always a challenge when you're changing your behavior, particularly for young kids, so we're hoping that we get a lot of help from parents and teachers as we try to help those kids try something a little different," he said.
The new standards are expected to cost school districts across the country $3.2 billion during the next five years. The USDA estimates 32 million students nationwide participate in school meal programs every day.