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Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 2:36pm

Changes In The School Lunchroom Could Help Georgia's Fight Against Childhood Obesity

When the National School Lunch Act was passed in 1946 the federal government was worried kids weren’t getting enough to eat. Now the government worries kids aren’t getting enough of the right foods. New guidelines will change what’s served in school lunchrooms across Georgia.

Angela Purvis just finished baking over 5-thousand whole grain rolls from scratch. She’s been making lunches for 17 years for Bibb County school kids. But, the way she makes the rolls has changed.

“It was basically what your Mama had and then it started cutting back the fat. We took the butter out. We took the salt out. We took the sugar out and now it’s even more so now. I mean now we’re doing whole grains.”

The finished rolls will be eaten by some of the 21-thousand kids Bibb County feeds every day.

It’s lunch time at Ingram-Pye Elementary.

A line of 5th grade students forms in the lunchroom here. On today’s menu students have a choice of chicken fajitas, whole grain chicken corn dogs, or a salad. Today Theresa Cantrell is one of the servers.

“They love the chef salads. They’re picking up a lot of the fresh fruits that we have out here and of course we’ve changed our French fries and tater tots we’ve changed over to baking them and the children really can’t tell the difference.”

And it’s those subtle changes that allow them to keep the kids lunches to an average of 664 calories. 11-year old Jonathon Sellers is reaching for the fresh options.

“Apples help you learn better. If you eat more healthy foods you can play outside and you will get exercise. My mama's been telling me that. Don’t eat much junk food.”

In December the federal government unveiled new guidelines for school lunches. The changes are the first major ones in 15 years. Bibb County’s Nutrition Director Cleta Long says it will mean more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on the lunch line, something Bibb County’s already doing.

“Not only are we going to meet caloric requirements for different age groups, but we’re also meeting the fat and keeping the fat lower. We’re also looking at trying to lower the sodium and increase fiber.”

The schools are also making nutrition education part of the curriculum. At Ingram-Pye that includes visits to the classroom by lunchroom manager Janice Williamson where she hands out samples of foods kids might not have tasted.

“Most of the time when we get like the pears, something we don’t normally have…we’ve got them now…we’ll let them taste the pears. So, next time they’ll maybe pick up a pear when they come through the line versus an orange, something they always have.”

This month Bibb County is undergoing a complete review of its nutrition program by the Georgia Department of Education. Once the results are in, the county hopes to qualify for the federal governments Healthier U.S. School Challenge. It rewards schools with extra money if they go the extra mile to provide healthy foods.

But money isn’t the only incentive to change things says nutrition director Cleta Long.

“Many of our young people right now might not outlive their parents because of health-related issues to obesity.”

And with Georgia’s childhood obesity rate over 21-percent, making changes to what kids eat is more important than ever.

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