Students eating less from Horry County cafeterias

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Fewer students are eating from Horry County school cafeterias.

Even if your student does buy a meal at school, it could be going to waste. Students participating in school lunch has dropped three percent across the nation, as well as in the Horry County School District. The biggest drop is happening at secondary schools. 

Students who can pay for their lunches are choosing not to. And students who are on free or reduced meals are choosing not to eat them.

Laura Farmer, the Director of Food Services, says there are many reasons for this. First, certain food groups are not popular. Under the new federal regulations, school cooks need to cut down on the amount of sugar, salt and calories they serve. So if students aren't liking all the vegetable options, some are choosing just not to eat the meal.

Second, Farmer says at the secondary level, changes in the lunch schedules create longer lines. As a result, some students prefer to use that time to socialize instead. Schools have also made other activities available during the lunch period like tutoring and club meetings.

Finally, school vending machines are still attracting many students' taste buds.

"I think that's regrettable that the kids don't want to eat the lunches," says John Gore, a Conway resident and parent. "But I think one thing that the schools can do is to really work on meeting the kids half way. They have to find a way to bend over backwards to make the food more attractive, make it more appealing," says Gore.

That's exactly what the Horry County School District is working to do. Farmer says that although the calories regulations are more restrictive than they have ever been, the challenge also comes with kids not eating healthier options at home. So the district is working to find more creative ways of including the healthier food groups by revising their recipes.

The new USDA regulations kicked in back in 2012. Since then, the government standards for school lunches require cafeteria staff to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. It also puts limits on the calories that can be served based on students' ages. Schools are required to meet these standards to get federal reimbursements for their meal programs.

Farmer says it has been a tough two years trying to implement the new regulations. If fewer students are eating meals, the total government reimbursement will be less. So, Farmer says, the district will have to adjust staffing, food and supplies according to the meals sold.

One way to help your kids become more accustomed to the food at school, is to start with healthy eating habits at home.

"I really think parents, including myself, should not buy so much junk at home," says Sigal Rowell, a Myrtle Beach resident and mother. "And kids should get used to eating healthier. And that's going to be helpful to the school when they come and they're already used to whatever they eat at home to eat at school. Then they won't refuse eating the healthy food at school," says Rowell.

As time goes by, Farmer says the are hoping the new guidelines will be accepted and more students will try new foods and learn to like them. They're also anticipating students in earlier grades won't have this problem of disliking the food and refusing to eat later on, because they were introduced to these healthier options from the start.

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