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Students order up pizza at AA Kingston Middle School in Potsdam. Photo: Julie Grant
Students order up pizza at AA Kingston Middle School in Potsdam. Photo: Julie Grant

USDA bets kids will learn to love healthier lunches

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This fall marks the beginning of the second year of the ambitious new $11 billion national school lunch program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now requires more fresh fruits and vegetables, lower sodium, more whole grains, and a daily calorie limit at every public school lunch. The program has grown this year to also include breakfast.

Some schools have complained, saying they're losing money because many students are no longer buying lunch at schools. And some parents say their kids are going hungry. A handful of schools have dropped out of the program, foregoing the federal reimbursement for free and reduced-price lunches.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Kevin Concannon runs the program as the USDA's Undersecretary for Food Nutrition and Consumer Services. He says about 250 schools have dropped out, or about a quarter of one percent of the 100,000 schools who do participate.

Concannon told David Sommerstein that the program will eventually make childrens' eating habits more healthy. But he says it will take some time for kids to get used to things like whole grain pasta and plentiful fresh vegetables. "Schools that had not been introducing those healthier foods over time, this was a much bigger lift for them,"says Concannon. "I'm confident that kids coming up through the system, younger kids, they're going to be, in effect, better acculturated to healthier eating."

He says one of the biggest advocates of the program was a group of retired military commanders, who were concerned about the impact of America's obesity epidemic on the availability of future recruits.

Hear Concannon's interview with David Sommerstein at the "listen" link above.

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