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This article originally appeared in the Examiner.

School lunches have become a touchy subject recently, as everyone from parent groups to the federal government to Jamie Oliver have pushed for an overhaul. Considering more than 32 million students eat school-supplied meals, and many of them get more than half their daily caloric intake from school meals, small changes have the potential to make a big impact.

Starting this fall, schools will be required to include more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, per new federal regulations announced last week. The first major changes to school food in 15 years also dictate reduced salt, fat and fried foods, and set a calorie maximum per meal. Most of the changes will take effect in the 2012-2013 school year, though some—such as lower sodium—will be phased in over the next few years.

Additional guidelines include:

• only 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, which can only count for up to half of the fruit and vegetable requirement
• tomato paste, such as in pizza sauce, will count as a vegetable
• only low-fat and non-fat milk
• baked potato products are allowed

As a parent, you do the heavy work of teaching your kids to eat healthy food. But, as Michele Obama said, "Parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won't be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway. ...Parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards."

Douglas County School District is already trying to get it right. On January 25, the nutrition services department hosted an open house so parents could sample what their kids are eating. More than 400 people attended, and had a chance to taste healthy versions of traditional meals, including:

• whole wheat pizza with roasted veggies and balsamic drizzle
• roasted veggie whole wheat flatbread sandwiches
• chicken hotdogs colored with cherry juice
• vegetarian pasta casserole
• chicken teriyaki with brown rice

In addition, many district schools have added—or are planning to add—harvest bars filled with fresh veggies and fruit.

Overall, the open house showcased an impressive effort. The food was good, and not such a major departure that kids will rebel. What remains to be seen is if kids will choose healthier options or throw more food in the trash.


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