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School Lunches Help Battle Obesity

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More Fruits and Vegetables now on Chatham County's Lunch Menu More Fruits and Vegetables now on Chatham County's Lunch Menu

Childhood obesity is quickly becoming an epidemic.

The number of obese kids has double in the last 30 years, and nearly tripled in adolescents.

In 2011, the CDC says one third of all children or adolescents are overweight or obese.

That's why new guidelines for school were instituted when it comes to lunches.

The nuggets and pizza we once knew are gone, replaced by fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  But with new food comes new challenges for schools and the school system.

"You want egg rolls or noodles?"

It's the question of the day at Pulaski Elementary.  450 students make their choice and chow down on lunch each day, but what's on the plate has changed.  

At least half a cup of vegetables of fruits, whole grains, brown rice, lowfat milk and cheese are just part of the "new" school lunch, a healthy alternative to the nuggets of days gone by.

"By serving those options, putting them out there, encouraging them to try them," said Lydia Martin, Nutrition Director. "Then hopefully they will be a fruit and vegetable lover."

Lydia Martin is the nutrition director for Savannah-Chatham County Schools.  She is responsible for the lunch menu for 22,000 students each and every day, all while meeting federal guidelines, keeping costs down, and the taste up.

"You kind of have to balance everything out and make sure that we're meeting the meal pattern," explained Martin. "We are meeting the calorie limits and sodium, and all the things we need to meet and also be financially sound."

With 64% students on the free or reduced lunch program, that's not always easy, but the results are good...

Kids eating school lunch in Chatham County are getting 3 times the dairy, 2 times the fruit, 7 times the vegetables and 29% less calories as lunches kids would bring from home.

"Kids are still going to want junk, just like adults still want junk," said Martin. "But you have to provide them with health alternatives. Hopefully they'll make the right choice."

Kids are choosing to try the new menu, one bite at a time. It's a learning process.  Pizza is still the number one choice, even if it's now with whole grain crust, but alternatives like chicken scampi are getting popular, and getting eaten. According to Pulaski Principal Antonio Byrd, it's making a difference outside the cafeteria.

"They can be more focused on getting the education," said Principal Byrd. "Being that teaching and learning going on in the classroom. So they are not talking about, did I eat this morning, or having those hunger pains... things that distances kids away from the academic environment."

A healthy learning environment extends to the classroom.

"I know what I like. Green beans and corns, a lot. And apples are healthy."

"They recognize what healthy foods are," said Principal Byrd. "We tie that into other curriculum areas so they may write about healthy foods, they may have word problems or math problems related to healthy foods."
 
Foods that hopefully will change kids eating habits, and their overall health, while keeping a smile on their faces.  

The good news for schools, is sequestration will "not" affect federal funding for school lunches.

Healthy doesn't always mean more expensive.

This year, thanks to some juggling and different choices, Chatham County has spent less money on food this year than last.

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