Fed government to serve up healthier school food

Last month, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law. / courtesy -

The federal government is serving up a new way to eat in public schools across the country. Last month, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law.

Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, described it as "the first improvement in school food standards in a generation."

While the specific guidelines have not been put into place yet, some schools in our area are already giving students healthier options.

60-70% of students buy breakfast and/or lunch in Horry County schools alone. School officials say serving healthy food today will better serve student's health tomorrow.

Instead of pizza, how about a salad? Instead of french fries, how about an apple? That can be a pretty tough sell to students.

"What we've tried to do in recent years is take the most popular foods that they like to consume and find the most healthiest aspect and the most healthiest version of it," said Laura Farmer, Director of Horry County School's Food Services Department.

Laura Farmer says Horry County Schools have taken steps of its own to provide healthier options for students. And the county does something many districts don't.

"Our good ole homemade spaghetti, it is home made, from scratch," said Farmer, looking over a platter of pasta and marinara sauce in the kitchen at Socastee High School.

When you cook from scratch you control the ingredients, you control the quality.

"We do our own sauces, our own casseroles. We still bake our own breads," pointed out Farmer, "We've lowered the fat content in a lot of our foods without the students actually knowing it. We try to give them a variety of ways it can be prepared so they see it in more than one way."

Though, it's not simply what is served, but how it's served.

"We've cut down on the number of times we serve fries. We serve them a maximum of three times a week in middle and high schools and maybe once a week in elementary," said Farmer.

The steps taken by Horry County will allow for a more seamless transition once federal guidelines are served up at all public schools, including more fruits, veggies and whole grains, less salt, sugar and fats. Low-fat milk, fruit juices and water - good. Soft drinks and sugary beverages - bad.

"This doesn't mean that we are going to eliminate treats, not at all," stressed Secretary Vilsack, "But it is a circumstance, situation where treats have a special meaning, a special occasion."

What better place to learn that than in school? But school officials stress, what they do has to be an extension of what parents do. Healthy eating begins at home and follows kids to school.

Experts add that it's not just about what kids eat, it's critical that kids exercise too.

Federal guidelines are expected to be finalized this year, but only apply to school breakfast and lunch. What's sold in vending machines will be addressed later in a separate rule.