School meals this fall might follow the old saying, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."
Students buying a school lunch will have to take a serving of fruit or vegetables, according to federal law.
Whether they eat it is up to the students, school district officials said, but they do have to take at least one serving of produce.
If not, the student will get charged a la carte prices for the meal items he or she does have, which is more expensive than if the student simply grabbed some fruits or veggies and bought an entire meal.
For example, if a student refuses to take a serving of produce, a chicken sandwich and a carton of milk alone would cost more than if the student grabbed a cup of carrots and bought everything as a meal.
Why? The changes follow regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010 that kicked in this school year.
Other requirements call for increasing the portion size for fruits and vegetables and decreasing the meat portions, lowering sodium and fat content in meals, and offering only fat-free or 1 percent fat milk.
School districts around York County have been posting information on their websites and in newsletters about the changes.
School officials said they support getting more nutritious meals to students, but worry about the method.
Chartwells, a food service provider at Dallastown Area School District, has been emphasizing healthier options, said Superintendent Ron Dyer.
"That's their big thing, rather than using a stream of chemicals and preservatives a mile long, they make food from scratch," Dyer said. But what if students don't want that serving of beans or an apple?
"If they really don't want that, there's nothing stopping them from throwing it in the trash," said Shawn Harlacher, director of food and nutrition services at South Western School District.
Officials are also worried about the increased cost of offering more fresh produce. Red Lion Area School District's in-house food service program has traditionally lost money, said Superintendent Scott Deisley.
"We'll lose even more money this year," he said.
Winning customers: Red Lion is developing marketing options to help get more students to buy food at school instead of bringing their own. They are also doing some focus groups with parents and students to try out menu items.
"We'll see if we can win back some customers," Deisley said.
He doesn't think the push for more fruits and veggies will cause a huge problem with students, as he notices "kids are trying to be better" about their nutrition in recent years.
"I think kids are eating healthier than we give them credit for," said Wayne McCullough, business manager at Southern York School District.
Southern monitored food consumption in the past year, and most students took a fruit or vegetable, McCullough said.
Not every child is going to warm up to the idea of a cup of green beans, though. There is an option to offer a starch-based vegetable one day a week as the required vegetable to help those students who think veggies are evil. French fries can be used, for instance.
But, as Harlacher pointed out, the reduced fat and calorie requirements for all meals make it difficult to include French fries as a meal item.
-- Reach Andrew Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org