Nearly 70 percent of kids in Mobile County get at least one meal a day from their school cafeteria. But do you have any idea what that meal consists of? New guidelines nationwide are setting strict requirements on what schools can feed your kids. We put those guidelines to the test in Mobile County.
When visited Allentown Elementary in Semmes, the kids were munching on corn dogs and sipping chocolate milk. But there's more to this lunch than meets the eye. It's actually a low-fat corn dog covered in whole grain breading. The chocolate milk is fat free. Child Nutrition Program Food Service Director Suzanne Yates says it's part of the push to end childhood obesity.
"They're looking at calories, they're looking at fat, and we're looking at just trying to have healthier type of lunches," she says.
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act sets new national requirements for what makes it on school lunch trays--and more importantly what doesn't.
"Like with the meat, we can only have for an elementary student eight to nine ounces of meat per week. For high school it's nine to ten ounces per week," Yates says. "The biggest promotion we have is to intake more fresh fruits and vegetables."
Elementary and middle school kids have to be served at least half a cup of fruits or vegetables per meal. For high school kids the requirement jumps to a full cup per meal. The school district has painstakingly planned every week's menu to meet this requirement. If they fail on any given week, they lose out on government funding reimbursing some of the expenses for each meal.
"One of the things the school district is doing is swapping out healthy options for old favorites, for instance serving sweet potato fries instead of french fries. Also, every grain in the cafeteria is now whole grain, with the exception of saltine crackers.
"Any kind of crust we have on any bread, hamburger buns, those are all whole grains," Yates says.
We also noticed many kids bringing bag lunches from home. So, we decided to see how the typical bag lunch stacks up to the new school lunch.
Under the new guidelines, school lunches must contain between 550 and 700 calories and have less than 710 milligrams of sodium.
We looked at an average bag lunch: a turkey sandwich with cheese and mayo, apple, small bag of chips and juice box. According to nutritiondata.self.com, that lunch contains 739 calories and 781 milligrams of sodium. It's a close contest, but in that case the school lunch comes out on top.
Mobile County administrators say they plan to take on healthier breakfasts next year.