Schools nationwide are working to revise menus to meet new federal nutrition requirements that mandate fewer calories, more whole grains, lower sodium levels, and more fruits and vegetables.

When diners at an exclusive food tasting recently noshed on sesame green beans and flame-roasted redskin potatoes, they weren’t celebrating at the area’s newest culinary hot spot.

Instead, these gourmands were huddled in a high school cafeteria sampling nearly 40 delicacies that could soon become permanent items for thousands of children who eat lunch and breakfast in this Northern Virginia school district each day.

The annual tasting show, a popular event for Prince William County officials to showcase new foods and collect input from students, parents and school staff, has taken on added significance following new U.S. Agriculture Department nutrition standards approved last year. School districts must now limit the calories that students consume, phase in whole grains, gradually lower sodium levels, and offer at least one fruit or vegetable per meal, among other requirements.

Schools are working to comply with these new measures by adding more green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, and overhauling traditional mainstays like pizza by substituting in low fat cheese and wholegrain crust, all within a limited budget. But officials are aware their efforts to improve nutrition will ultimately fail if their finicky customers at more than 100,000 institutions nationwide refuse to eat the new offerings.

For each food item, we look and say “can we afford this, is it good for them, does it meet all the new food requirements, those kind of things, but what’s really important is are they going to buy it if we put it out there,” said Serena Suthers, director of school food and nutrition services in Prince William County, located southwest of Washington, D.C.

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