SALT LAKE CITY — First-grader Kennedy Newman loves eating grapes for lunch. She and her classmates regularly nosh on fruits and veggies at Mill Creek Elementary.
New federal guidelines for school lunches may have more kids eating like Kennedy as they require more vegetables and whole grains — and less trans fats and salt. It could take years before schools begin to implement the guidelines, but one Utah school district is ahead of the curve when it comes to healthy eating.
Granite School District says it has found a way for kids to still eat the foods they love while practicing healthful eating habits. Alan Coker, a registered dietitian with Granite School District, said it's tough to get kids to eat healthy, especially considering some of the most popular menu items.
"Pizza, hot dogs, those are just staple items, so the only thing we can do is try to make it healthy for them, instead of taking it away all together," Coker said.
So the district had to be sneaky.
Pizza crusts, bread and tortillas are now made with whole wheat grain. French fries are baked instead of fried and foods with trans fats got the boot. In the beginning, students passed on the healthy changes.
"When they first came out with the wheat tortilla, a lot of students wouldn't choose it," said Tina West, principal of Mill Creek Elementary. "But as they got used to it, I just had one boy (who) said, 'I love these, can I have another?'"
The district says it's working to change the way students and parents think about school lunch. Elementary students in the district have a full-service salad bar stocked with fresh fruits and veggies every day.
They are also responsible for making their own healthful choices at lunch and can choose from one of six entrees.
"When we went to school we had one or two choices and that's all you got, and if you didn't want to eat that, you just didn't eat that," said Sheldon Moore with Granite School District Food Services.
The district's nutritional guidelines follow the newly proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for school lunch. Under the USDA proposal, schools must increase the amount of fruits and vegetables, offer more whole-grain foods, limit trans fats and sodium and switch to 1 percent or fat-free milk. Minimum and maximum calorie levels for each grade level would also be established.
"I think our nation as a whole is on the larger side of things, so if we can establish good habits young, hopefully they will carry through. At the same time we need to have things the students will eat otherwise they'll dump them and it's a big waste," West said.