Berger, who has worked at RCA for five years, washes the fruits that will be used for meals. Rockdale County Public Schools now are offering a more fresh variety of fruits and vegetables and more whole grains.
CONYERS -- The school cafeteria staff knows that students don't like sweet potatoes, no matter how they present them, but school officials still are trying to get them to eat more vegetables and fruits anyway they can.
Now federal guidelines require more servings for students, no matter what the cost.
Rockdale County schools, like schools across the country, now are required to serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables. They must offer dark green vegetables, orange or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, eliminate all added trans-fat and serve only 1 percent or nonfat milk under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new standards.
Elementary school students now receive half a cup of fruits and vegetables, instead of of a cup. Instead of half a cup for high-schoolers, they may now take up to 1 cup of fruit and 1 cup of vegetables.
In addition to more offerings of fruits and vegetables, calories for all grade levels were reduced under the new regulations.
Previously, kindergarten through sixth-grade students could get 664 calories, while seventh through 12th grades could get 825. Now, kindergarten through fifth grades can receive 550 to 650, middle-schoolers 600 to 700 and high-schoolers 750 to 850.
Peggy Lawrence, nutrition director for Rockdale County Public Schools, said her department has made some menu changes by offering more fresh and a bigger variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and a smaller portion of meat in some cases.
"We are very focused on scratch cooking, which gives us a lot of control in the end product," Lawrence said about an already common practice in her schools. "For example, we make our own rolls from scratch, so we have worked on changing the ratio of whole wheat to white flour over time to get us to where we need to be."
She said she eats at a school every day, so she talks with students, including her own two children, about the food and observes their habits, including them not being receptive to sweet potatoes.
"No matter what we've tried, it hasn't worked. We tried mashed. We tried baked. We tried fries. We tried fries sprinkled with cinnamon. We tried fries sprinkled with brown sugar," she said. "Kids just didn't like sweet potatoes, but that doesn't mean we'll stop trying."
She said schools give students choices, and this year, she's seen students eating fresh nectarines, plums and various colored pepper strips.
"Our push with students is to get them to just try it. Of course, that's our challenge, too," she said.
Lawrence said it's too soon to tell what the impact to her budget because of the changes, but it will increase because of the larger portions and since fresh produce costs more.
"Of course, I always hope any changes we make will help increase participation in our meals," she said.
Schools serve about 3.5 million meals -- breakfasts, lunch and snacks -- a year, she said.
Lawrence said this year's changes are focused on lunch, and breakfast changes are expected to come next school year.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.