Kids opting to brown bag

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Trying to get kids to eat healthier can be tough, and a federally funded school lunch program is helping. But a trend is showing the initiative may be losing money in the long run.

There’s been a big change in school lunches over the past few years. Pizza and cheesesteaks have been replaced with salads, fruits and vegetables. In fact, those food items are mandatory under the National School Lunch Program that reimburses school districts for offering healthier choices on the lunch line.

“There are a lot of different varieties of fruit and veggies. You can even get entrees,” said Liberty senior Kenya Jones.

But is the program working? Nationally, it is getting mixed reviews. The Associated Press reported that multiple schools are dropping out of the $11 billion a year program because they are losing money by students either throwing away the fruits and vegetables or packing their lunch. At Liberty High School, they are seeing more students bringing their lunches from home.

“We have seen a drop in the reimbursed meals for sure,” said Liberty Food Service Director Lisa Banner. “I think that just maybe offering a few more fruits and vegetable to them and a wider selection will help us increase those counts.”

Banner said the toughest issue at Liberty is introducing whole grains to students. Wheat hamburger and hot dog buns are not going over well.

Youngstown City Schools is trying to introduce healthier options at a younger age so students can get accustomed to eating them.

“We are trying to introduce more fruits and vegetables to children so hopefully they can grow better eating habits as they grow older,” said Donna Smaldino, chief of food services.

Banner and Smaldino agree the program is a great way to introduce students to food they may never have heard of or seen before.

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