But it can be tough to sell kids on heaping servings of fruits and vegetables.
So some schools are effectively paying students to include fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays.
The Hilliard schools near Columbus will charge students 50 cents less if they take a fruit or vegetable along with their main entree and milk. The change is intended to “promote the sale of qualifying meals, and to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” the district says.
School Nutrition Association spokesperson Diane Pratt-Heavner says it makes sense that districts are charging a premium for passing on fruits and vegetables. The new school lunch rules say that in order for a school district to receive federal reimbursement for a meal, the student must leave the cafeteria line with either a fruit or a vegetable on his or her tray.
In the past, the items on a child’s tray didn’t necessarily have to include a fruit or vegetable for the meal to be reimbursed by the feds.
The reimbursement for a free lunch is $2.86 and the reimbursement for a full-price lunch is around 30 cents. The food for a school lunch costs around $1, so for many districts, those reimbursements can be important.
“They operate on a very tight budget and they can’t afford not to take the reimbursement,” Pratt-Heavner says. And ensuring everyone’s meal looks similar helps avoid singling out children receiving free or reduced-price lunch, she says.
But that doesn’t mean kids have to actually eat those fruits and vegetables. They just have to put them on their trays.
In other school lunch news, the USDA has ruled that schools can now serve smoothies to meet requirements about dairy and fruit servings. The USDA suggests one smoothie a day is enough: Serving smoothies for both breakfast and lunch is not recommended.