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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sweet potatoes, spinach, plenty of spice and the Moroccan rice dish to be served this year at St. Paul public schools is just the start of a new school lunch program.

"It's like sweet at first, and then when you swallow it you start to feel the burn," said student Francisco Balderrama.

Balderrama is one of six high school students who taste tested two new recipes.

The Moroccan rice is served with two seasoned Gold N Plump drumsticks and also new this year is chili with chicken, which drew mixed reviews.

"Not so much beans," said Chi Na Moua. "'Cause there's a lot of beans in it, but I really like that they added the chicken this year."

Her critique, and the critiques of others will be taken into account as the district attempts to please the masses. More than 30,000 children a day are served at St. Paul public schools.

It took all summer for dieticians and nutritionists to come up with the right food and calorie combinations for the new meals.

On this day, crews of chefs who head the operations at their schools, learned how to prepare and cook the menu items.

New federal guidelines implemented this year will mean more fruits and vegetables, including dark greens like spinach, reds and oranges and starches like beans and peas.

The district's "choice bar" offers all you care to eat of any of those. Kids are not required to eat them, but schools are now required to offer them.

"If they want to try a new vegetable, they can take one sweet potato stick to try it out," said Nutrition Specialist Angela Gaszak. "We've really given them to fill they're tray up as much as they would like with these fruits and vegetables."

"I really like the snap peas, cause they're really sweet and the strawberries, they're good," smiled Moua.

The new meal plan also includes fewer processed foods and lower calorie counts.

Meals for kindergarten through fifth grade will average about 600 calories a day, 6th-8th grades around 650 calories and for high school 9th-12th grades willbe800 calories.

Here's what a meal looked like before:
Cheese pizza
Canned fruit
Tater tots with ketchup
Chocolate Milk

Now:
Whole wheat cheese pizza
Baked sweet potato fries
Raw Grape tomatoes
Applesauce
One percent milk and low fat ranch dip.

For most meals it will mean a cut of about 250 calories.
The lunches will also have lower sodium, fewer saturated fats and no trans-fats. Down the road, by 2014, all grains must be 100% whole-grains.

At St. Paul schools it all comes with a new slogan, "Great Tray, Great Day," and while the changes are just the start, the idea is to make it last.

"We're hoping that this will help them be healthy learners for life, they're learning to eat right at school and we hope that they learn that for the rest of their lives," said Gaszak.

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