Cafeterias offer up variety of healthy choices for students

LAWRENCEVILLE - Part of living a healthy lifestyle is eating healthy foods, and school system nutritionists try to teach students to make healthy choices.

In high school, students can buy items a la carte, but elementary and middle school students must pick an entree, two sides and a milk when purchasing a school lunch, said Ken Yant, Gwinnett County Public School's director of school nutrition programs.

Gwinnett County meals follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, and meals served throughout the week offer no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and no more than 10 percent in saturated fats, Yant said.

"With 150,000 students eating breakfast and lunch, it's hard to reach everybody, but we're proud of what we have and what we do," Yant said. "We're teaching (the students) to make the right decisions."

Schools also offer prepackaged salads. Yant said the cafeteria employees package the salads to keep track of the nutritional value.

While some students said they have eaten the salads, they listed pizza and chicken among their favorite cafeteria fare.

Taylor Cobb, a seventh-grade student at Richard Hull Middle School, said her favorite is pizza sticks.

"The salads are OK," Taylor said, "but (last year) they made me sick."

Teachers encourage students to make healthy choices, such as eating three meals a day and drinking eight glasses of water, she said.

As for choices offered in vending machines, it's up to each school's principals to decide what is allowed, Yant said.

In Buford City Schools, a wellness committee is developing a wellness plan that is tasked with deciding what snacks and drinks are available to students, said Assistant Superintendent Allison Miller.

The committee, which was formed this year, will become more active in the future, Miller said.

Barrow County Schools also try to teach children to make healthy choices.

According to the school system's wellness policies, schools use the cafeterias as "learning laboratories" to allow students to apply critical thinking skills they are taught in the classrooms.

Students are also encouraged to make healthy choices, such as eating breakfast in the mornings.