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School Lunches Get a Garnish

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Reputation Persists

But school lunch still gets a bad rap, says Sheah Rarback, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and the director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami in Florida.

"It's an easy target because kids are picky eaters, but school lunch does meet guidelines for having certain nutritional standards," she says.

"Now the schools are competing with fast-food establishments, so they are working to make foods competitive and appealing," Rarback says. The American School Food Service Association estimates that 13% of U.S. public schools sell fast foods, including food from such chains as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Arby's, and Subway.

New, improved school lunches must be coupled with education, says Rarback, also the chairwoman of the Dade County School's food and nutrition advisory board.

"We try to use more whole grains and ... have meatless entrees, and it's a great idea, but it needs to be coupled with nutritional education," she says.

"The big picture," she says, "is making better choices in the cafeteria and having some program to support and encourage children to do this."

But everyone agrees that another piece of this pie is physical activity.

"Nutrition can't function alone. We have known that it is a combination of knowledge of nutrition and eating right, but also good amount of physical activity," says Procter.

"Physical activity in schools has gone down in priority and frequency," Berkowitz tells WebMD. "There's less physical education, less funding for physical education. We need to rethink how we get kids to be more physically active and try to reduce sedentary behavior."

Fizzy Milk?

Another problem plaguing school children is calcium deficiency and the risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

But who is going to drink milk when there is soda?

Enter E-moo, a fizzy, calcium-rich, and low-fat drink that comes in such flavors as orange creamsicle and bubble gum. Developed by scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., E-moo is available in most top food markets in the Northeast and is about to go nationwide.

A few hurdles exist before it's offered in the schools, says Mary Ann Clark, RN, vice president of technical services at Mac Farms, Inc., of Burlington, Mass, but the product was extremely well-received at a recent school foods fair.

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