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Healthier options on the menu for area school children

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - It's lunchtime at Holton Elementary and these days lunches are looking even healthier for students. New federal standards require more servings of fruits, veggies and whole grains.

Susan Roberson, Richmond Public Schools' nutrition director, gave CBS 6 News a tour of Holton's cafeteria and explained some of the changes that they've made.

"Flavored milk is now skim, fat-free and only 20 grams of sugar. We now have to offer fifty percent or more whole grains so our breading on our nuggets is whole grain breading and our rolls are whole grain," explained Roberson.

She added creating healthier menus can be costly and they are likely to spend 20 percent more money.

Across town at Henrico's Wilder Middle School, the lunch counter is lined with special signs to guide students to healthy choices. 

Behind the scenes, menu planners work to get everything they need.

Roberson's counterpart in Henrico, Paul Kelly explained that changes the county has made.

"We are still working with manufacturers to try to get more products with less sodium," said Roberson. "That will take time to happen, so we are working with local farmers to get more fresh fruit and vegetables in season."

Parent Daysha Washington welcomes the change in menu, convinced it will give her 4-year-old, Nyjia, a healthy start.

"I like that because when I went to pick her up today they had baby carrots and whole wheat crackers and I was like, oh yes, this is good," she added.

Nutritionists say the biggest challenge is balancing new requirements and keeping youngster's taste buds happy.

"Changing recipes and doing taste tests, finding recipes our students will eat. You can do all the planning, but if students fail to eat it or fail to enjoy it, then we've failed," added Roberson.

Nutrition experts say once they've done their part in area cafeterias, it's critical that parents keep the nutrition awareness going on the home front.