School Boards across SWLA facing the new USDA school lunch chang - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Special series: A look at the school lunch plates around SWLA

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Sample lunch menu, Beauregard Parish Sample lunch menu, Beauregard Parish
Sample lunch menu, Jeff Davis Parish Sample lunch menu, Jeff Davis Parish

It's a topic many are concerned with: School lunch and what's on the plate.

Cafeterias in schools across Southwest Louisiana are making changes to the meals served to students. These changes are coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with guidelines school systems must follow to help provide a healthier lifestyle for students.

But change this drastic isn't easy and each parish is experiencing the same challenges when meeting the guidelines.

"I have a lot of parents calling in concerns that their children are coming home hungry," Jeff Davis Parish School Board Food Services Supervisor Tina Coleman said. 

"We also had some problems with our children accepting these changes. That's probably been our greatest challenge," Beauregard Parish School Board Food Services Supervisor Molly Poe said.

The new guidelines offer:

- Fruits and vegetables as two meal components daily

- Offer whole grains

- A daily meat or meat alternative

- Fat-free chocolate milk and/or 1-percent white milk

- Reduce sodium content of meals

- Meal ingredients will be zero grams trans fat per serving

Coleman knows this is a tough transition for herself and Jeff Davis Parish schools, but if she doesn't follow these guidelines, the school system won't receive reimbursement.

"The incentive is that we have a 6-cent increase for our reimbursement," Coleman said. "So, this year, we're getting a chance to get everything together and submit it to the state department for approval."

When asked what happens if guidelines aren't followed, Coleman said: "You don't get the reimbursement."

That's something that's important to public schools who offer the free and reduced lunch. Coleman said even with these changes, the number of students signed up for lunch has declined.

"My participation compared to last year is down by 290 students, so we're trying to get those students back," she said.

But in Beauregard Parish, Food Services began the healthy transition in 2011.

"By gradually breaking it in last year, a few of the changes we made with the grains and the milk, it's helped us make the transition into this year much easier," Poe said.

Let's compare the menus from these two parishes:

For Nov. 7 in Beauregard Parish, students were served a pasta variety, a whole wheat roll, broccoli cuts, salad, orange slices and a milk choice.

For Nov. 7 in Jeff Davis Parish, students were served oven fried chicken, broccoli casserole, sliced cucumbers with a dressing, fresh fruit, whole wheat bread roll and a milk choice.

"As far as keeping in with the guidelines ... if the student takes and eats everything on there, I believe it's a good and filling meal," Coleman said.

"Even though it's not what we probably personally would like, it is better for us," Poe said of the new lunch guidelines.

But across SWLA, each school board is, and should be, following the rules and new USDA guidelines to continue providing a healthier meal to students in SWLA.

To see a complete list of every school lunch menu across SWLA click here.

Part 2 of this series airs Thursday on Nightcast.

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