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316 SCHOOLS GET A HEALTHFUL HEAD START

SHARE 316 SCHOOLS GET A HEALTHFUL HEAD START

While the U.S. Agriculture Department is hitting school lunch programs nationwide with new restrictions for more healthful meals, many Utah schools may already meet those new guidelines.

On Wednesday, federal officials released new requirements that could help young Americans avoid cancer, heart disease, hardening of the arteries and other diseases linked to diet. The same day, the Utah-based Healthy Foods Healthy Kids organization presented awards to school lunch programs in 316 Utah schools for making, or starting to make, similar improvements."We want to make sure these students are lowering their intake of fat while increasing their fiber intake," said Tahmina Martelli, chairwoman of Healthy Foods Healthy Kids. "But we don't want to lose these students who are eating school lunch. It's a real challenge."

Under the new requirements, school lunch programs will have to make sure that no more than 30 percent of lunch calories come from fat in four years' time - and no more than 10 percent of those calories can come from saturated fat.

Also, the lunches must cut down on sodium and cholesterol, although no firm levels are set. They will also have to contain more fiber, especially fruits, vegetables and grains.

"Utah is way ahead (of other states) in meeting these new guidelines," Martelli said during an awards banquet held in the Utah Valley State College Ballroom.

Forty-three percent of the schools applying for the organization's Silver Fork Awards received them. Ninety-three of them received "Four Forks" honors for meeting requirements on the group's Level Four, or highest level, of commitment to healthful lunches. None of the 224 Utah schools honored last year received a "Four Forks" award.

Level One, or basic, requirements include using whole-grain products rather than enriched grain breads and buns, using low-fat or reduced-calorie salad dressings and baking french fries and potato nuggets rather than frying them. Level Four requirements include taste-testing of new, more healthful menu items, serving a majority of vegetables with alternate seasonings instead of salt and pepper and teaching students and parents twice yearly about nutrition.

Two Utah districts, Provo and Ogden, received "Silver Forks" for all their schools.

In the Ogden District, school lunch officials have already banned potato chips and have switched to 1 percent milk from whole milk, said Debbie Hefner, child nutrition program supervisor.

"Our whole district has qualified both years, and it's still successful at getting kids to eat," Hefner said. "It's just proof that with the right marketing and good recipes, kids will eat good, healthy meals."

The Healthy Foods Healthy Kids group was formed two years ago, with participation from members from 11 school- or health-related organizations - including the Utah Department of Health, American Heart Association, American Cancer Association, Utah School Food Service Association, Utah Beef Council, Utah Dairy Council and the State Office of Education.