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Halfway through a burrito lunch at Greenwood Elementary. (Photo: Christine Beaderstadt)

Halfway through a burrito lunch at Greenwood Elementary. (Photo: Christine Beaderstadt)

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New School Meals Focus On Fruits And Vegetables

Ruby de Luna

Kids going back to school this week will notice some changes in their lunch menus. There will be more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The changes are part of new nutrition requirements from the US Department of Agriculture. The new guidelines aim to provide healthier food choices for students. KUOW's Ruby de Luna visited Greenwood Elementary School to check out those changes.


The lunch menu for the Seattle School District has the same stand–bys: beef hamburger, fish sticks, spaghetti, tacos. What's different is that fruits and vegetables will be the big focus.

Before, students could skip fruits and vegetables. Under the new guidelines, students have to choose one or the other. But judging by the students' lunch trays, they're making room for both.

Kids: "Some broccoli and an apple. Broccoli, beans and apple. Apple and some salad. Peas and an apple."

The Seattle School District plans to offer not just a wide variety of vegetables, but variety in colors, too. Wendy Weyer is nutrition services manager for the Seattle School District.

Weyer: "So each week we'll be providing students items that come from the dark greens, the reds and oranges, the starchy vegetable groups. Starchy vegetables are back on the menu."

Weyer explains that different vegetable colors have different nutrients. And kids are drawn to the colors; they eat with their eyes, too.

Another change: starchy foods like buttermilk biscuits will be phased out. Instead, whole grains, or foods made with whole grains will be part of the menu.

A group of school districts around the Puget Sound region have been gearing up for the change even before the new USDA guidelines. For example, Kent School District has found ways to incorporate Washington–grown produce in their menu. In Renton and Seattle, the school districts worked with local chefs or culinary schools to develop meals that meet the new guidelines.

The real test is how much the kids eat, and how much ends up in the compost bin. So far, school staff say the ratio is about the same as before.

Sue Daley is assistant secretary at Greenwood Elementary. She also helps out at the cafeteria during lunchtime. She says some kids clean off their plates, and some pick what they're used to. She doesn't expect them to eat everything that's on the menu. But the variety encourages them to try new things. Like the time last year, when they introduced plums.

Daley: "A lot of kids had never had a purple plum. And we said just try it. And then they'll take a little bit, and they tried it. And the next day they ate a purple plum. So it's about trying, that's all that we're trying to get them to do. We can't force them to eat their fruits and vegetables, but we can offer them choices."

And maybe one, two, or more of those choices will stick and the idea that fruits and vegetables are part of a meal.

I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW News.

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