School lunch participation down nationally and in Calcasieu Parish

6 p.m. School lunch participation down nationally and in Calcasieu Parish
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
Week 3: 9-12 Grade (Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
Week 3: 9-12 Grade (Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)
(Source: Erica Bivens/KPLC)

CALCASIEU PARISH, LA (KPLC) - While federal guidelines in making school lunches healthier sounds good in theory, school nutrition directors say the menu requirements are difficult to implement and many kids won't eat them anyway.

School cafeterias across the country are serving up healthier lunches for students.

"We serve and try to please the kids," said Adonus Gatewood, Cafeteria Manager at LaGrange High School.

But each year, federal nutrition guideline changes have become more stringent.

New meal pattern requirements call for more fresh fruits and vegetables, skim milk, and cutting back on portion sizes.

So how do you balance healthy choices with keeping kids fed and happy?

Patricia Hosemann, School Food Service Director for Calcasieu Parish says, "We do a lot of scratch cooking and we get to control the ingredients that go in these products."

Adding options like wraps or salads for middle and high schools has also helped.

"The kids really enjoy the foods, especially the salads that we serve," said Gatewood.

So, then we asked the students themselves what they thought about the cafeteria food. Everything from 'alright' to wanting larger portions was vocalized.

While school officials say they recognize students don't like certain foods, the waste or lack of school lunch participation is a trend that extends beyond Calcasieu Parish.

"Nationwide USDA is saying participation is down in schools by about 16%. We have seen a 7% decrease, which of course affects your income," explained Hosemann.

But it's not a lack of variety here; rather, it could be Louisiana culture.

"You know they tend to eat more fried foods, they tend to eat more salty foods," added Hosemann.

But officials say parents can help by following their meal pattern requirements at home.

Of course, there are certain things students do like...

"They love the baked chicken here and they also love the red beans and rice and jambalaya," said Gatewood.

And the jambalaya was on the menu Thursday.

School nutritionists say they'll face another guideline change this fall, which will require them to cut back even more on sodium and convert from 51% to 100% whole grains. They say vending machines will also see a facelift.

New this fall, Hosemann says Calcasieu Parish will be partnering with Chef Paul Prudhomme's seasoning blends.

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