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The challenge: Healthy school lunches for students
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Manteca Unified’s Nutrition Services have been making the rounds at the back-to-school functions to educate parents on the nutritional value of the daily meals. - photo by VINCE REMBULAT/ The Bulletin
Can a corn dog, burrito or pizza be considered a healthy choice?

Apparently, Manteca Unified School District’s Nutrition Services believe so.

The proof here can be found in the preparation and ingredients, including the use of whole grain.

At the recent back-to-school functions, Maureen Johnson and others in Nutrition Services have made themselves available to families of the district to discuss the nutritional value of the meals.

“We’re here to educate parents on our menu,” she said earlier in the week at Joshua Cowell School.

Included are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Manteca Unified has been a front runner in the state in promoting healthy eating choices coupled with exercising.

In 2009, the district received national recognition via the Healthier US School Challenge. The award program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded California’s first-ever Gold School Awards to Lathrop – the main site and now-defunct annex – Golden West, French Camp, Stella Brockman, Joseph Widmer Jr. and Joshua Cowell schools.

Those sites served as model nutrition programs while demonstrating the importance of making health, nutrition, and physical fitness a priority in helping children succeed academically, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

The honor is valid for two years, with the district looking to re-apply later this school year, Johnson noted.

Nutrition Services, for now, is continuing to build on their programs.

Take Harvest of the Month, for example.

At last Tuesday’s school board meeting, Patty Page, director of Nutrition Services, indicated that the program has helped introduce youngsters to fresh fruits and vegetables, including broccoli.

“This will allow our kids to experience new things (to their diet),” she said.

The meals continue to be a hit among youngsters.

“In 2009-10, we served 3,722,387 meals,” said Page.

Four million meals will be the goal for this year, she added.

As for the menu, Johnson said that pizza is always a favorite among students.

“That’s a popular item,” she said.

The crust of the school pizza is whole grain sprinkled with low-fat cheeses and marinara sauce.

A corn dog contains a Foster Farm chicken frank and is baked rather than deep fried.

The school burritos are also baked and made of whole grain tortilla and filled with low-fat ingredients.

“We’ve modified many of the old recipes,” Page said.

Nutrition Services recently added a nutrition table as an information guide.

But does the food pass the taste test?

Page offered an invite to board members to take that test.