Government introduces major overhaul of school lunches

Even when pizza is on the menu, school lunches are going to be healthier.

The first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in more than 15 years will mean that most of them will have less sodium, more whole grains and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables on the side.

First Lady
Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new guidelines during a visit with elementary school students today in Alexandria, Virginia. They were joined by celebrity chef Rachael Ray.

Under the rules, pizza won't disappear from lunch lines, but it will be made with healthier ingredients. Entire meals will have calorie caps for the first time, and most trans fats will be banned.

Sodium will gradually decrease over a 10-year period. Milk will have to be low in fat, and flavored milks will have to be nonfat.

The rules aren't as aggressive as the administration had hoped. Congress last year blocked the Agriculture Department from making some of the desired changes, including limiting French fries and pizza. Conservatives in Congress said the government shouldn't tell children what to eat. Some school districts nationwide have objected to some of the requirements, saying they would cost too much.

But healthy food options are nothing new for the North Syracuse School District.

Since taking over as Food Services Director, Louise D'Angelo has revamped district menus adding more healthy food options.

"I want them to enjoy their lunch, but I also want them to have healthy choices," she said.

Now students see items like whole grain dinner rolls, homemade pizza with whole grain crust, and stirfry with government approved rice and chicken.

"I love it -- I love that they're very conscious of what children are eating," said Debbie Camire, who has two children in the district..

But healthier food options come at a higher price, in most cases -- meaning school districts have to shop around to find the best prices.

D'Angelo said school districts in Onondaga and Cayuga counties buy food together in wholesale to get good deals.

The real challenge, D'Angelo said, is to get students to buy in.

While more students are buying schools lunches, D'Angelo said it's still tough for kids to get used to change eating habits.

That's why she said the goal is to start changing habits early -- in elementary school -- so students will carry those habits with them as they get older.

For more information on healthy food options in the North Syracuse School District, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.