WILMINGTON -- It's tempting to go for those French fries over a piece of fruit at lunchtime, no matter how old you are. But children have to choose from what schools supply, and quite simply, healthier food costs more. Food costs go up every year for New Hanover County schools and it's a growing challenge for the school system. As Anderson Elementary students eagerly move through the lunch line, they probably aren't thinking about how much their food costs. But Imer Smith is. She's the director of child nutrition for New Hanover County schools. She says there has been a dramatic increase in produce costs this year, but emphasizes its importance for growing children. "In our cafeteria lines we have fresh fruit, chilled fruit every day, a salad everyday. We just introduced a chef salad this year and also we offer a variety of vegetables offered daily," Smith said. While it may be cheaper to buy less healthy foods, Smith says when it comes to kids' nutrition, money isn't everything. Smith said, "With prices increasing, especially with produce, you are going to expect that. Then you've got to look at the nutritional base of why you're offering a healthier choice." Not only are food costs increasing, but state standards limit the amount of popular ala carte items that typically generate a lot of money. Smith says this hasn't caused much loss in New Hanover County -- yet. "You just have to make up the difference and think of creative ways to gain that revenue back," Smith said. Smith expects to pay four percent more in food costs next year, but is determined to keep the healthy food available -- and junk food limited -- for New Hanover County kids. To help prevent a big loss of money lunch costs will most likely go up. New Hanover County school lunches cost anywhere from $1.65 to $2 for students.
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