Are federal school lunch standards working in Washington?

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 1, 2013 at 7:02 PM

It's now been five months since new school lunch standards were rolled out nationwide.  Already, a school district in New York is giving the federal program a failing grade. 

Are the healthy lunch alternatives working in Washington state?

KING 5 took that question to some of the toughest critics and pickiest eaters around, our local students.

"It tastes alright.  It's not the best I've ever had, I'm not gonna lie, but it's alright," said Lake Washington High School senior Alac Wong, during a recent visit to the school's cafeteria.

Lake Washington High School had already begun putting some healthy alternatives on its menu, even before the USDA guidelines took effect last fall.

Now, the healthy items are more than just options. They are required.

"The biggest changes for us were just grains and proteins," said Chris Lutgen, who is the Director of Food Services for Lake Washington Schools.  "Now there's minimums and maximums, ensuring we're meeting all the requirements."

Signs hang in the cafeteria, reminding students they must select at least three of the following five items: fruits, vegetables, breads or grains, meat or a meat alternative, and milk.  Of those, at least one item must be a half cup of fruits or vegetables.

Lutgen admits, some healthy items are much more popular than others.

"In the past few days, those salads have been going really quickly.  Like I couldn't get one today, so I had to get a muffin, which is a terrible alternative, but I mean, I had to get something," said senior
Robert Hill.

Lutgen says supply and demand issues on the lunch line are just one of several adjustments they're making.

District leaders are also paying close attention to what winds up in the trash can.  They want to know what healthy foods students like, and which ones they wouldn't exactly miss.

"What we're trying to do is really focus on the items the students want to take," he said.  "If they don't eat it, it's not nutritious.  It's going in the garbage  And our goal over this whole program is to make sure students are eating and getting better nutritious meals."

Lutgen says they're learning more every day on how to improve the program, but the roughly 50 schools in the Lake Washington District will be sticking with the USDA guidelines.

Opting ouf of the program like they did in New York can cost a school district big bucks in the form of federal funding.

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