National school group wants USDA to rethink upcoming food changes

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Monday's lunch at St. James Elementary consisted of a turkey hot dog on a whole wheat bun, chicken bog made with brown rice, sauteed zucchini and squash, cole slaw and a fruit selection of mandarin oranges.

Students can also pick up a carton of fat-free milk. The healthier options are all part of a government effort, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, to encourage kids to eat more nutritious meals. The changes have been implemented into schools over the last couple of years, in phases.

"They can take everything on the line - fruit and vegetable-wise - but they must take one or the other," says Kim Kemmner, cafeteria manager.

Starting July 1, all schools will be required to cut the amount of sodium in lunches. By 2017, 640 milligrams of sodium is the limit allowed for elementary school kids. For high school students, 740 milligrams of sodium will be allowed.

The School Nutrition Association has asked the USDA to rid the sodium requirement; to stop requiring kids take a fruit or vegetable and to lose the requirement that says pastas and breads have to be more than 50 percent whole grain. The group is concerned the requirements are making food less appetizing and that food is wasted.

Officials at St. James Elementary say it's not an issue at the school.

"You don't need salt for food," says Kemmner. "You can use garlic, which has nothing in it."

WMBF News took a look at what's being thrown out at lunch, and it wasn't much. The principal says her kids typically throw things out because they're full, not because the food is healthy or tastes bland.

Mary Beth Heath says the school has the advantage because their students are young and impressionable.

"I suspect some of the children eat here, what they would not eat at home," she says. "I think it's a social thing with them. I think they are sitting here with their friends, and they go ahead and try it and they like it."

Another change happening this fall affects snacks.

For the first time all snacks, a la carte and those in vending machines, must meet healthier guidelines.

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