Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A pilot program at a few N.C. elementary schools has revealed one of the pitfalls of requiring cafeterias to serve only wholesome, nutritious food. The cafeterias could lose money.
People who run the state’s school food services went to Raleigh last week to ask legislators for more money. Preparing the kind of meals the state mandated in new guidelines in 2005 costs more, they say, and they’re asking the state to allocate about 15 cents more per meal to make up the difference.
School cafeterias may indeed be just as culpable as fast food restaurants for boosting revenues by appealing to children’s penchant for sugary, fat snacks. Some school systems apparently relied on sales of sweets, chips and other unhealthy snacks to make up for the cost of providing hot meals. Those unhealthy a la carte items became the cafeterias’ bread and butter.
After five months of offering fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat snacks and whole grains, each of the 124 schools participating in the pilot program lost an average of $5,377, according to an Associated Press report. The foods themselves are more expensive, and preparing them takes more time.
There’s no question, though, that offering kids better food is worth it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds of adult Americans are either overweight or obese and over one-third of the country’s children and adolescents are either obese or at risk of becoming obese รณ and rates are particularly high here in the South.. Establishing good eating habits in the early years could avoid millions in treating future health problems. And the plus of living a long, healthy life is priceless.
The General Assembly should stand behind the 2005 guidelines, which all of the state’s public elementary schools must meet by the end of the 2007-08 school year. That means keeping them in place and helping schools with the costs. Families who can afford to pay for school lunches should be willing to pay more for better meals. Those getting free or reduced-price lunches will have to rely on the government to make up the difference.
With the presence of the N.C. Research Campus and its founder’s interest in promoting good nutrition, Kannapolis City Schools could be in a unique position to promote and provide healthy meals for children. It would be a great investment.