If you give kids healthy options at mealtime, you just might be surprised by the choices they make.
That premise proved itself true when Christ the King School in Richland recently conducted a weeklong test run with a fruit and salad bar.
Shouts of "They have kiwi" could be heard across the lunchroom.
The fervor with which the students dug into the fresh food surprised the school's longtime kitchen manager, who would typically have served a hamburger, a half cup of fries, canned fruit and a cookie for the kids' lunch.
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Instead, on one day during the test week, students got to choose strawberries, apple slices, oranges, bananas, kiwi and fresh vegetables to go along with their choice of pepperoni salad, chicken patty or hot dog on a whole grain bun.
Most parents have a kid whose particular love of a fruit or vegetable surprises them. Kiwis seem to be popular, and a lot of kids even like the much-maligned broccoli. Baby carrots are another winner. Not everything has to be fried or sugar-filled to appeal to a kid. That's just marketing propaganda we've fallen victim to over the years.
Healthier choices are going to be mandatory under new federal nutrition guidelines for school food service. Schools that receive federal aid for meal programs -- both private and public -- have to make the changes by the beginning of school this fall.
The pilot program was such a hit with the kids at Christ the King that the school may try to get healthier items on the menu before school lets out this summer.
Of course, the hope is that students will eat more fruits and vegetables than less-healthful items, helping to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity that's plaguing our nation.
But with fresher food options comes a higher price tag. Once again, school officials say they face another "unfunded mandate." That jargon means that the schools are being required to pay for a program without being provided with any additional money.
President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. And it's not an entirely unfunded mandate. The government will provide $4.5 billion, which primarily will go to increased funding for free and reduced price meals and after-school meals to at-risk children.
That means kids paying full price for their lunch probably will have to help bear the burden of the costs of their healthier meals. Local districts are anticipating raising the cost of meals between 5 cents and 25 cents, though final decisions are yet to be made.
There's a reason why the old rules resulted in cheaper food costs. The requirements included 8 ounces of milk, 2 ounces of meat or "meat alternative" and a quarter cup of fruits or vegetables at lunch.
The new guidelines are more specific, increasing the volume of fruit and vegetables to a cup a day, requiring a variety of vegetable options weekly and increasing whole grains. The childhood staple of chocolate milk must be fat-free when it's offered in school. Transfat, sodium and calorie counts also are addressed in the plan.
These are the first changes to the school lunch program since it was established in the 1960s. Many of the school lunches we adults remember from our youth haven't changed all that much.
But we used to get a lot more exercise before the videogame era, and food choices were harder to come by for the schools and at our own dinner tables.
Today, school cafeterias have more options, even if they're not using them.
The new plan will give students the option to fuel their bodies in a more healthful manner. In the end, the hope would be for their waistlines to decrease and their attention spans in school to increase, and save our children from the pain of diseases associated with childhood obesity.
Let's at least give them a choice.