New changes for Horry County students mean healthier choices - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

New changes for Horry County students mean healthier choices

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina schools implemented healthier meal and snack options for students in 2014. The new changes were put in place to comply with federal guidelines.

Horry County School District spokesperson Teal Harding says, at first, the changes were a bit shocking for Horry County students. The district initially saw a three percent drop in school meal sales. But the schools are now getting more creative in their meal options, which is helping.

The meal standards are much stricter now: low-fat, low-sugar, and low-salt. Cafeterias are also required to serve more variety and larger portions of fruits and vegetables, and calories limits are based on age. Since the program kicked off in 2012, schools are required to meet these standards to get federal meal reimbursements.

Many school districts were worried the strict guidelines, while well-intentioned, would drive kids to refuse to eat altogether. The principal at Ocean Bay Middle School says they have actually not seen a drop in their lunch sales since offering the new healthier meals. Principal Connie Huddle admits students were a little hesitant at first, but the school staff regularly keeps in touch with the kids to see what they like and what they don't.

"One of the things, we've had to work hard to promote healthy foods to students,” says Huddle. “Because initially, they were, 'Oh no! You don't have this!' But I think...we're doing a better job in the presentation of it. And the understanding of it too for students, why we're looking at healthier foods."

The only drop Ocean Bay Middle School has seen is in the cafeteria's a la carte sales. The reason for the drop is because they no longer serve the old popular options of chicken wings and sweets. But Principal Huddle says students are liking the newer options of baked potato chips and whole grain Rice Krispies Treats.

The same regulations for school meals also apply to school snacks and any food that groups want to sell for school fundraisers. But recently, South Carolina State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman lifted the complete ban on selling unhealthy snacks in schools, but only for the purpose of approved fundraisers. The ban started last July under the Smart Snacks provision of the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010."

Some districts in the Palmetto state protested the ban, saying it hampered the ability of volunteer groups to raise money for activities. So now, schools must apply for a waiver to allow snacks that don't meet the limits to be sold in schools.

Principal Huddle says Horry County District schools are already allowed to make 15 exemption requests a year. They have to submit those requests to the district and be approved before they can sell anything against the regulations for a fundraiser. Even with the new lift on the ban, Ocean Bay Middle School plans on sticking to the healthy rules.

"As a school where, you know, you have adolescents, it probably isn't the best to be feeding them sugars during the day, anyways. So we probably won't ask for any more exemptions,” says Huddle.

School and group leaders have found alternatives to fundraiser foods that still are just as popular, and Huddle says they have not lost out on any fundraising revenue this year because of the changes. At the middle school, if any group still really wants to sell any unhealthy items, they are not allowed to sell it during school hours. They'll have to find some other time to offer the fundraiser.

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