Second-grader Brinley Trone had a special reason for choosing a bag of apple slices over a whole apple at the Schnecksville Elementary School cafeteria Thursday: "My teeth are going to fall out."
Brinley said the apple slices offered during lunch Thursday are easier to eat for kids who are still losing their baby teeth.
"I love these apples because I want to be healthy," she said. "That's one of the best things here."
That's music to the ears of Todd Holmes, Parkland's director of food services, and Linda Weber, the head cook at Schnecksville Elementary. They are responsible for making sure the school is following new federal guidelines that require students to take at least one serving of fruit or vegetables when they buy a school lunch.
The rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and is aimed at improving nuitrition in school lunches while combating childhood obesity. The law was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, who has made it one of her causes to get kids eating healthier and exercising more.
Before this school year, fruits and vegetables were offered to students but not required.
"In the beginning, they were shocked that they had to take something," Weber said, adding that now the cashiers don't even have to remind them.
Nationally, the requirement that students take at least one serving of fruit or vegetables has stirred controversy among critics who feel the government shouldn't be mandating what kids eat. But Weber thinks the new rules make sense.
"If I hear a complaint from a parent, I say, 'Really? You don't want your kid to have fresh fruits and vegetables?'" Weber said. "We are changing habits. It's for the good."
Parkland has been introducing more fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and less fatty foods into the lunches for some time, Holmes said. For example, the district started using whole grain rolls five years ago and met with some resistance, but now kids are used to them. "Things have really changed for the better," Holmes said.
Still, schools have to be creative in the kinds of vegetables offered so they don't end up in the trash. On Wednesday, Schnecksville offered green salad and a black bean corn salad, as well as cooked corn and peas. Fruit choices included a half-cup of grapes, apple slices in a bag, an apple, a pear and other fruit.
The offerings were a far cry from the canned peaches drenched in heavy syrup of yesteryear.
The ever-popular chicken nuggets were available but Thursday's version had a light coating that was not breading. Pupils dipped them in barbecue sauce. Breaded chicken fingers were also on the menu. Skim and low-fat white milk and chocolate milk took the place of whole milk.
The 2010 law is the latest change to the National School Lunch program that was enacted in 1946 in response to concerns that too many men had been rejected for military service during World War II due to health problems caused by poor diets.
Today, the concern is that children's diets are full of empty calories and childhood obesity is an epidemic. Offering more nutritious school lunches is important, Holmes and Weber said, because for some students, it's the biggest meal of the day.
If Schnecksville students are mourning the loss of white bread, whole milk and canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, you couldn't tell Thursday. Second-grader Arianna Glover said her favorite school food is pizza but she also likes the apples and plums. "They're sweet," Arianna explained.