Healthier lunches for Valley students

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Like many districts around the state Fresno Unified used to serve foods like chicken nuggets, hamburgers and pizza. But after being audited by the state in recent years -- it's making an effort to change the menu and provide kids with healthier meals.

Hundreds of hungry students line up -- some to take advantage of a national school lunch program providing free meals to low income students.

Food Services Director Jose Alvarado told Action News, "We're trying to get our kids to learn about fresh fruit and vegetables every chance we get."

Congress created the program back in the 1940's to address malnutrition in schools. The $10.8 billion program serves about 32 million lunches a year. But in order to qualify for funding, schools must meet nutritional benchmarks like limiting fats and reducing sodium, and according to state figures, not all do.

Nutritionist Brian Button said, "I know the majority of the time it's not the healthiest of choices. They have the fried burritos and the French fries and chicken nuggets and if you add the ranch on top of that, that's nothing but saturated and trans fats and it's just terrible for you."

So Fresno Unified is working to change that.

Alvarado said, "We increased our menu offerings of fruit and vegetables by 40%, and we're making more local products for our students, locally grown produce."

According to Alvarado, the district no longer serves fried food and is gradually incorporating healthier options onto the menu. He said, "Fatty products are what we're trying to stay away from, also sugar. This year we're limiting the amount of dessert on the menu or dessert like items."

But he admits the district still has room for improvement and plans to reduce sodium levels even further when new standards take effect next year.

Alvarado said, "We've already begun looking at sodium and introducing products that are low in sodium."

Like Fresno Unified, most districts got high marks for serving foods high in calcium, vitamin a and vitamin c. But about 30% of school districts exceeded the saturated fat limit. And four out of five campuses exceeded sodium levels. State regulators are required to review school lunches every five years.

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