How do they pay for it? The federal government reimburses the county $2.51 for lunch if a child is eligible for free meals, $2.11 for reduced-price meals, and 28 cents for the other lunches served. The more money that comes in from the federal government, the less the county has to pay.
In the first four months, Mingo County brought in $186,000 extra federal dollars. "That balances the loss of paying children and the extra cost of the food," Maynard said.
"Most West Virginia counties can make universal breakfast break even," said Rick Goff, director of the state Office of Child Nutrition.
'We were all on board'
Before making the meal changes, Mingo Superintendent Randy Keathley, a Williamson native, proposed them to principals and teachers. He asked them "to reflect on the fact that, if you have hungry children in the classroom starting the day, you're more apt to have kids who are disengaged, sleepy, hungry, irritable and so forth.
"I wanted to talk it over with them first. If they were not receptive, I would not have wanted to try to force it on them. They had to support the benefit to the children, for this to work.
"We discussed all the possible complications. And when we finished, 100 percent of the participants had bought in."
They wanted the afternoon snack program, too, he said. Every afternoon, all Mingo elementary and middle-grade children get a snack through the federally-funded Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.
"The kids love it," Maynard said. "Sometimes they are things they've never seen, like star fruit and red bananas. The USDA sends information, so each day is a little nutrition lesson, too.
"I can definitely tell you that the snack makes them much more willing to try fruits and vegetables at lunch and breakfast," she said.
Subhed: Learning to like brown bread
In October, Kermit kindergartners filed through the breakfast line, picking up items. A teacher stood at the end of the line, encouraging them to try new things, offering fruit, apples and oranges.
At the tables, most ate the fruit. Many did not eat the "brown bread," whole wheat bread. They ate the cheese off the cheese toast. "We've got white bread at home," one child said disdainfully.
The child sitting next to her said, "I think brown bread is good."
The first child looked at the brown bread, picked it up and took a bite.
Five months later, "a lot of them eat the wheat bread," Chaffin said. "Over time, they got used to it. The fourth grade did a survey, and the kids said the food tastes better.
"We used to have a parade of parents coming in at lunch bringing the kids sandwiches from Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen," she said. "They don't come anymore.
"We want to educate these children to live a healthy lifestyle, not just teach them math and reading. I think we're making a little progress."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.
"The Shape We're In" was written with the help of the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.