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'How can people eat this stuff?'

BUSD students see influx of nutrition for lunch

Staff Writer

BARSTOW • You can’t please everybody all of the time. This was the general sense from most Barstow Unified School District officials in regard to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 — a bill pushed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2010 and into implementation this school year.

At the heart of the Act is authorization of funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and an increase of access to healthy food for low-income children, according to a press release.

For Barstow students, this means more fruit and vegetables, less sugars and sweets. White bread has been replaced with whole grain; french fries with sweet potato fries; ground beef with ground turkey; and beef chili with turkey chili.

“What we have done,” said Angel De Jesus, food services director for BUSD, “is try to provide more vegetables on the menu.”

In fact, De Jesus said the district began largely implementing these changes when the USDA provided them with the new guidelines two years ago.

Still, just this year, they’ve added new items like jicama, spinach and romaine lettuce to the repertoire and upped the variety and quantity of veggies.

On Friday, it was Fajita Day at Crestline Elementary. Kids were treated to chicken fajitas, peaches and salad. Some children enjoyed chocolate milk, but it was fat free.

“The fruits are good and healthy for you,” Andrew Runge, 11, said.

Another student, Olivia Hedberg, 11, said she was fine with the healthier lunches and mentioned that junk food had mostly been relegated to special occasions.

“We get sweets once in a while for holidays,” she said.

Dave Finch is the principal at Crestline.

“What I do appreciate, that I see in the cafeteria, is that students are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, less processed product,” he said. “I’ve seen more experimentation in the part of our food services in trying new things, exposing kids to new things.”

He said he hasn’t spoken to the kids too much for their take of the new guidelines, but noted that he’s overheard kids complimenting the taste of the jicama and parents, on one particular day, expressing delight because their children were being served broccoli.

While most students at Crestline seemed to enjoy Fajita Day, an excited group of kids made no effort to hide their displeasure. When asked if they wanted sugary foods back on the menu, loudly in unison, they shouted, “Yeah!”

One girl from the group brought her plate over and commented, “How can people eat this stuff?”

Jeff Malan, the superintendent for BUSD, understood there would be some hesitation to accept the changes brought forth by the Act.

“Students are eating healthier as a result,” he said. “Not all of them — there is a small percentage who are not extremely thrilled. But, overall they have accepted the menu we have.”

He also noted that a recent salad bar enacted at Hinkley Elementary was the result of the will of student government and the student population, not the Act, which might indicate a growing approval of nutritional lunches among students.

The Act is, among other things, intended to improve nutrition, focus on reducing childhood obesity, set basic standards for school wellness policies, increase the number of eligible children enrolled in school meal programs by approximately 115,000 students and require school districts to be audited every three years to improve compliance with nutritional standards, the press release said.

This should ring well with parents. Especially, since childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A lot of kids like it, but some don’t,” De Jesus remarked, when asked if he had been able to read into child acceptance of the healthier meals. “We have to be firm, though, because eventually they’ll eat it.”

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