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Soda out, food with low salt, sugar content is in
Students line up to place their after-meal plates, drink containers and left-over foods in designated recycling containers after lunch. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Some things have been missing on elementary and high school cafeterias for several years now.

Sodas and other sweetened beverages, for one thing, as well as high fat and sugar contents in breakfast and lunch meals.

Their banishment is all in the interest of addressing the epidemic of overweight children. Studies have shown, for example, that reducing soda consumption among the young is one of the most promising strategies for preventing obesity, according to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

School cafeterias also have ditched the reusable food trays of several decades ago in favor of disposable Styrofoam plates.

The sale of bottled and can sodas have been banned on elementary, middle, and junior high school campuses since 2004 when the K-8 Soda Ban law (SB 677, Ortiz) enacted in 2003 took effect on July 1, 2004.

The High School Soda Ban law (SB 965, Escutia) of 2005 mandated that half of soda and other sweetened drinks must meet the legal standard by July 1, 2007 with the goal of eliminating all those types of beverage by 2009.

Now offered in place of those drinks in school district cafeterias are bottled water. Milk and chocolate are still available choices for students. Milk is 1 percent white milk; chocolate milk is fat-free and corn syrup-free.

Manteca Unified students in the 1980s and even 1990s may also remember having only one choice of entrees during lunch in the cafeteria. Today, they have three to choose from. On Thursday, Aug. 23, at George McParland School main campus on Northgate Drive, for example, the menu posted consisted of the following food items: turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes and roll and Goldfish crackers; chicken corndog with mashed potatoes; and peanut butter and jelly uncrustable with string cheese, Doritos and raisins. On the salad bar were healthy choices of fresh green apples, nectarines, bags of baby carrots, and fresh salad.

The whole idea behind these food choices is to teach students that “eating healthy can be tasty,” explained Manteca Unified Nutrition Services Director Patty Page.

Offering three entrees for lunch is not only to break food monotony. In fact, Page said that “by giving students not just one choice but three choices” for the entrees, they are more likely to consume the food that they like, thus limiting the amount of food leftovers that just go to waste.

In line with maintaining lower fat and lower sodium in the students’ lunch meals, the day’s turkey and gravy entrée featured corn starch instead of flour and butter.

From eating healthy to being eco-friendly

Just as they lined up to get their food at the kitchen counter and at the salad bar, the students at McParland School again lined up after eating their lunch to place their disposable plates in their proper recycling containers – empty water bottles in the blue bin, Styrofoam food trays in a tray stack, a contraption that will allow it to be compressed before it is disposed of, and a brown trash bin for the leftovers.

Everything is done to reduce the carbon footprint which will help keep a healthier environment today and for generations to come, Page explained. It also teaches the students to become stewards for the future’s green and clean environment.

NEXT: The Veggie Express Connection. Fresh produce served on students’ lunch menus come from the school district’s own back yard.