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Most school lunch programs do a reasonably good job of preparing nutritional meals. The challenge is to deal with students whose favorite foods are not always the best for them - pizza and hamburger, for example.

The challenge is about to get a little tougher. The U.S. Agriculture Department has issued a new set of regulations designed to ensure that school lunches contain less fat, cholesterol and sodium and provide more fiber to the 25 million American youngsters who get the meals.It's the equivalent of a mother demanding, "Eat your vegetables."

Under the rules, schools will have to make sure that no more than 30 percent of lunch calories come from fat and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat. More emphasis will be on fruits, vegetables and grains.

However, the Agriculture Department does recognize reality. The proposed targets can be met over a week's time, rather than each day. That means that pizza and other favorites can still be served on occasion, but the mix of dishes will have to be more varied.

The new rules will allow considerable flexibility in meeting the nutrition standards, rather than requiring "meal patterns" often used in the past - so many ounces of meat, two certain-size servings of vegetables, etc.

The whole program is based on the idea that school lunches can successfully blend what is good for students with the fast-food style items they seem to crave. The goal is not merely to serve nutritious foods but to serve meals that the youngsters will eat and enjoy as well.

That is a considerable task, although some schools already do well even under the old rules.

School lunch professionals have always tried to offer balanced, tasty meals. And many Utah schools already are embarked - some with considerable success - on a state program to reduce fat and raise the intake of fiber.

But as any parent can attest, trying to deal with the likes and dislikes of children and balancing what they consider "good" with what parents say is "good for you," can be frustrating.

The new federal rules will be phased in over a four-year period. For some students, that may not be nearly long enough.