The nation's students can expect to see more fruits and vegetables in their school lunches under new federal guidelines aimed at adding more nutrition to their diets.
The regulations shouldn't be a shock to schools and students in Northwest Georgia, which adopted similar guidelines in 2004 under a multidistrict nutrition program called Pyramid Partners.
"We voluntarily changed to something very similar to what the federal regulations turned out to be," said Phyllis Oliver, nutrition director for both the Chickamauga City Schools and the Chattooga County school system.
U.S. students this year will see more varieties of vegetables, fruits and salads than at any time since federally subsidized lunch programs began in the 1940s, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new standards, which became effective July 1, calorie limits also are set for meals, according to The Associated Press.
Schools now are required to serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables, and students must take at least one fruit or vegetable serving per meal. Schools must offer dark-green vegetables, orange/red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added transfat and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk.
Rules requiring different types of vegetables "forces you to offer a little more variety," Oliver said. "We've learned what the students like."
For example, instead of simply offering spinach salad, Oliver said, "we just have a lot of spinach added with our salad mix." The mix of spinach, iceberg and romaine lettuce is offered every day at lunch, she said.
Carrots are an example of an orange/red vegetable that students will eat, she said.
"There's a sweet potato tot that seems to be pretty tasty that we'll be introducing this year," Oliver said.
The federal regulations call for less salt in food, with sodium levels being reduced gradually over the years, she said.
"Our biggest challenge will be the reduction of sodium," Oliver predicted.
Northwest Georgia schools involved in the Pyramid Partners program include Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Walker, Murray and Whitfield counties and city systems in Dalton and Chickamauga.
In Rockdale County, Ga., things are going smoothly, but getting students to try sweet potatoes is proving to be quite a challenge, school officials said.
"No matter what we've tried, it hasn't worked," said Peggy Lawrence, nutrition director for Rockdale County public schools. "We tried mashed. We tried baked. We tried fries. We tried fries sprinkled with cinnamon. We tried fries sprinkled with brown sugar.
"Kids just didn't like sweet potatoes, but that doesn't mean we'll stop trying," Lawrence said.
In Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, the school system constantly is testing dishes with students, said Ken Yant, director of school nutrition for the school district.
One dish that was a surprise hit in Gwinnett schools: a watermelon chiller salad of watermelon, cucumber, orange and mint, Yant said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.