BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is preparing a new school menu with more of a variety and healthier options from the Federal Government.

According to Tulane University, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country.

In the 2016–17 National Survey of Children’s Health, 19.1% of Louisiana children ages 10 to 17 were obese, much higher than the national average of 15.8%.

On Friday, U.S. agriculture officials proposed new nutrition standards for schools nationwide.

The Communications Director of the East Baton Rouge School System, Benjamin Lemoine explains how the district is getting some creative options to offer to their students.

“School lunch always has the stigma of getting cardboard pizza or sloppy joes,” said Lemoine. “We want to revolutionize that.”

This is the parish’s first time limiting added sugars, focusing on sweetened foods such as cereals, yogurt, flavored milk, and breakfast pastries.

The plan announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also seeks to significantly decrease sodium in the meals served to the nation’s school kids by 2029, while making the rules for foods made with whole grains more flexible.

The school system will present new food items every two weeks to the students. Food ideas like avocado toast, grits, and parfaits will make the list for rotation.

“We want to do it for the children’s health,” says Lemoine. “The other thing is we want to keep them interested and actually eating.”

The school system is hiring two professional chefs to teach the district school cooks the new food menus.
According to Lemoine, it won’t cost the district any more funds to make these foods.

In the long run, it is expected to save the school money by not wasting food. They believe that due to the kids more than likely eating more of the new foods they find their performance to be better focused in the classroom.

According to a Nutritional Expert, Dr. Catherine Champagne at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, certain foods can help with a child’s ability to learn in school, and continue healthy habits in life.

“If we start very young, then we will have healthier adults,” says Dr. Champagne. “That’s what we really want is to look at, the life cycle.”

Dr. Champagne says with the new school menus, she hopes to see new research in terms of finding the type of food groups the school system will use. For instance, she would like to see certain types of green vegetables on the student’s plates so their minds can function and process throughout the day.

Lemoine finds that many children in the capital area either don’t eat the meals or for some, these are the only meals that the students are getting for the whole day.

“You know one of the things that many people don’t realize is how many students we have who are economically disadvantaged,” says Lemoine. “A lot of those kids go to school without breakfast. They often don’t get dinner at night.”

Lemoine addresses how this new school meal program is “really important and it’s something we have to address.”

By the fall of 2027, added sugars in school meals will be limited to less than 10% of the total calories per week for breakfasts and lunches. The goal is to reduce sodium in school meals by 30% in the fall of 2029.

The EBR School System is expected to present these new menus by August 2023.