November 5, 2004
Students crowded in front of 14-year-old Jessica Miller as they walked past a line of oranges, kiwis, grapes and celery sticks with peanut butter.
"This year there are a lot more healthy foods," said Miller, a student cafeteria employee, as she watched over the new fruit and veggie bar at Mesa’s Kino Junior High School.
For the first time, the Mesa Unified School District is offering all-you-can-eat fruit and vegetables to all junior high and high school students who purchase a lunch.
It’s the first step in encouraging students to eat healthier, said Loretta Zullo, the district’s food services director. While hamburgers and chicken sandwiches may still come with fries, pizza now comes with a side salad or apple sauce.
"I looked up one day and saw pizza and fries by the hundreds, and I thought, are we really doing our kids any favor by promoting this type of eating pattern?" Zullo said.
Some students are struggling with the change, walking past the food bar and muttering "it’s all disgusting again."
Others said they are glad to try new things.
"A lot of kids like it. They especially like the grapes," said ninth-grader Paige Rochelieux, 14. "But with carrots, some kids . . . won’t eat it."
The federal government defines the nutrition of lunches in public school cafeterias that offer free and reduced-price lunches — and french fries are considered a vegetable.
But Zullo said she wanted to change a trend that began in the 1970s when school cafeterias started to mirror the fast-food industry. She plans more changes, but is still waiting for the federal government to release a new food pyramid that could alter the recommended intake of carbohydrates or proteins. The government also plans to add physical activity as a daily requirement in the pyramid.
At Kino, Jordan Avelar, 13, stopped nibbling his fries for a moment as he scooped up some trail mix.
"There’s still what we usually eat — burgers and fries," he said. "But it’s cool to have something healthy."