School lunches changing with the times

Nutritional considerations have made lunchtime different over the years.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Think back a few years to when you were in school.  Remember lunch: a rectangle piece of pizza, fruit cup and small carton of milk? If you were lucky, you could choose between white or chocolate milk.
 
Well, things have changed over the years.
 
It's just before noon at Sickles High School. The lunch rush is about to begin. Hundreds of hungry students quickly get in line for their 35 minutes of food and freedom. Junior Morgan Noah patiently waits in line.
 
"I like the chicken and mashed potatoes and how we can mix it and how there's different options," Noah says.
 
Many different options. Aside from today's popular potato bar, there's a salad bar, pizza, baked ziti, mixed veggies, fruit and a cheesy spinach bake. 
 
"The students are our customers," said Steve Lunin, the cafeteria manager at Sickles. "And they have plenty of options out there in the real world so to speak, so we want to try to make sure that they have the same options when they come in here."
 
Options that make the school lunch more appealing than a bag lunch.
 
"This is a different type of student than 10 years ago, 20 years ago," Lunin says. "They're looking for healthy choices. There are a lot more vegetarians, a lot more vegans."
 
General manager of student nutrition Mary Kate Harrison says changing federal guidelines make it easier for students to pick healthier options. 
 
"We do have to incorporate all these nutritional things into the menu... whole grains, leafy green vegetables, our red and green vegetables," Harrison says. "They all have to be here."
 
And it's no small task. All schools serve breakfast and lunch.
 
"Total.. about 250,000 meals a day, so it's a lot of kids," Harrison says, "but we are spread out over 200-plus sites."
 
She says everything has to be taken into consideration: nutrition, taste and choices.
 
"So we have to get that fine line between... what are you accustomed to? What do we want you to learn to eat? And what will you eat? It's a real balancing act," Harrison says.
 
And they have to be able to serve those meals fast. Morgan waited in line more than 20 minutes.
 
"Yeah... long time," Noah says.
 
She finally gets her food, but only has about 10 minutes to eat it.
 
"I usually get here early and I get it a lot earlier, but today I was a little late so not really today.. I don't have a lot of time," Noah says. 
 
But when lunch is finally over, the cafeteria manager is confident they've done their part.
 
And once cleanup is done, preparations begin to do it all again tomorrow.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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