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School lunches these days tend to be tastier, healthier

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

The days of tuna surprise and mystery meat are over.

School lunches today offer students more choices than ever and are being prepared in a more nutritious way.

Instead of french fries and chicken patties cooked in hot oil, they are now baked. Instead of traditional white bread being served, it is now whole grain. Even cooked ground beef is drained and rinsed to reduce fat.

"We've been trying to lower the fat content by baking instead of frying, steaming vegetables and providing salad bars at the high schools," said Kathy Loretta, Harrison County Healthy, Safe and Drug Free Schools coordinator.

Counties are required to follow the federal guidelines for child nutrition by serving specific portions of each of the food groups, said Kathy Talley, from the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition.

"The meals are planned over a period of time to meet the daily recommended dietary allowances," Talley said. "The breakfasts meet one-fourth of that allowance and the lunches meet one-third of it."

The changes required to make more healthful food have not affected the taste, say area students and teachers.

"They think nothing of eating the whole wheat roll versus the white roll. They butter it just the same," said Phil Brown, principal at Norwood Elementary.

In Harrison County, about 60 percent of students eat hot lunch, Loretta said.

"The foods are delicious. I don't think there's anything I don't like," said Tasha Williams, a fifth-grade student at Norwood. "If the ones bringing cold lunch would just try it, they'd like it."

At South Harrison High School, more students than ever are eating school provided meals, said Principal Jerry McKeen. The school, like others in the county, usually gives students three selections -- the regular meal, the salad bar or the pizza line.

"Teen-agers like to have choices and having a lot of options has increased our numbers who eat," he said. "Students used to look at the menus and if they didn't like it would just eat a candy bar or not eat at all."

For elementary students, there aren't as many choices and students do watch the menu so they can pack their own lunches for days they don't like the foods being served.

Tyler Terango, a fifth-grader at Norwood, believes that when he and other classmates pack their own lunches they aren't as nutritious as those being served by the school.

"When I bring my lunch it's usually a sandwich and a bag of potato chips, where they would serve baked fries as a side dish here," he said.

School breakfasts and lunches are a convenient, nutritious option for students, administrators say.

"They serve high quality food that's low in fat and affordable," Talley said. "Where else can you get all of that at a low price?"

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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