What are your kids eating?

Food service cuts in cash-strapped schools across the country are impacting what students eat in lunchrooms nationwide.

School systems throughout southwest Louisiana have cut cafeteria staff, portion sizes, and various lunchroom supplies to make up for the loss in revenue.

Calcasieu Parish Schools cut more than 100 cafeteria positions for the 2010-2011 school year. The board also considered serving "Preferred Meals" and changing up portion sizes to save funds.

Jeff Davis Parish Schools has noticed a 90% increase in food costs within the last year.

"We're taking a look at doing different things to make up for that rise in food costs," said Tina Coleman, food services coordinator for Jeff Davis Parish Schools.

One thing JDPS is doing is selling extra sale products to the students. These items include 100% fruit juices and slushes. The students purchase these items in addition to their meal.

The school system is also considering purchasing sporks, instead of separate spoons and forks to save money.

Through cutting back on supplies, JDPS is hoping to put more funds toward healthier foods.
"Of course we all know that the products that are healthier for you are more expensive," said Coleman. "Our guidelines show we need to improve nutrition in school lunches."
JDPS is using more whole grain products in jambalaya, rice dressings, and pastas. The food services department is currently looking to order even more whole grain products to improve nutrition in the lunchroom.

Dr. Nanette Null, a physician at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, said that there are more things schools can do to improve nutrition.

"You can't just look at whether you have whole grains or not, you have to look at the entire lunch as a whole," said Dr. Null.

7News took the lunch menus from different parishes in southwest Louisiana, and asked Dr. Null to examine the meals students are eating day to day.

Dr. Null said some meals are pretty well balanced across the board.

"I liked the holiday meal in particular," said Dr. Null. "I liked it because they have a vegetable and definitely the sweet potatoes are going to be much healthier than the white potatoes. The ham or the sliced turkey is going to be a leaner meat."

Dr. Null said the hamburger and tater tots is the least nutritious meal on the menu. This item appeared at least once on the menu in all parishes across southwest Louisiana. Calcasieu Parish even had the meal twice in the same week.

"Both of those items are going to be a simple starch and are not going to have a lot of nutritional value to them," said Dr. Null.

Although canned fruit may sound like a healthy balance to the hamburger and tater tots, Dr. Null urges folks to think again.

"The canned fruit is in heavy syrup, versus if you have canned fruit that is in either water or pear juice that would be much healthier," said Dr. Null.

Dr. Null added that although healthy eating habits are influenced at school, they actually begin in the home. The less "grab and go" meals at home, the healthier the child will be.