First lady Michelle Obama can promote healthy foods including whole grains in schools, and Congress can make it a law, but food manufacturers aren't catering to either of them.
"When you get down to it, we are trying to implement these regulations, but these kids are our customers," said school food service purchasing director Bob Martz.
The federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act takes effect this year, requiring that a fresh fruit or vegetable and whole grain bread item be included with each lunch.
"How many kids go home and eat whole grains?" Martz of the Nutrition Group food service management company asked.
Local school districts Martz serves include Bellwood-Antis, Claysburg-Kimmel and Tyrone Area.
Martz said students who test potential food purchases for the company are picky about pasta that is more than 51 percent whole grain.
"Right now kids are complaining it's too grainy. When you're dealing with people's palates, you have to be careful or you lose money," said Martz.
What do the federal regulations mean for students' favorite lunches, such as Hollidaysburg Area School District's pizzatas planned for today at the senior high school?
They'll use whole-grain pizza crust, said district nutritionist Betsy Snyder.
"We had a taste test, and there won't be a big transition," Snyder said.
Pizza crusts and all breads are whole grain this year, she said.
But more changes are in store. Sodium and sugar are required to be slashed, but gradually, Martz said.
"Sodium is a big animal to put your arms around. If you change the taste in such a short term, people won't like it," Martz said. "You have to give manufacturers the ability to test it or else they will be out of business."
Changes implemented this year mean students have more choices and variety of lunch items, Claysburg-Kimmel Superintendent Royce Boyd said.
"We are following the government regulations, but there are all kinds of options for students to choose, so there will be more [lunch program] participation," Boyd said.
News coverage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's use of the popularly named "pink slime" has drawn a lot of attention to the ground beef filler, but no Blair County school district's ground beef contains pink slime this year.
"The USDA has confirmed the products we have in-house do not contain pink slime," Altoona Area School District spokeswoman Paula Foreman said.
Concerns of school districts nationwide about the lean, finely textured beef comprised of meat scraps disinfected with ammonia have resulted in manufacturers specifying whether their products contain the filler.
"It's supposed to be harmless, but it does not look appetizing," Bellwood-Antis Superintendent Brian Toth said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.