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Kids putting down the tater tots in Cheney school meal program

Program, funded by government grants, helps schools provide healthy meal choices to students

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - They say it takes 21 days to break a bad habit, so how long do you think it took the Cheney School District to get kids to pass on the tater tots and pick up carrot sticks instead?

The answer is happening right now at Sunset Elementary School in Airway Heights.

"We went back to scratch cooking, which we started when I was starting, we're not doing the pre-made stuff anymore," kitchen manager Gayle Russell said.

Russell, a 23-year veteran of the school cafeteria, calls this year's food culinary. And how could one argue when you see her serving up homemade lasagna with marinara made from scratch.

"The kids were a little ? a little taking aback at first," program director Brian Levy said.

Levy pushed for this program, supported through government grants. The program allows him to ship in fresh ingredients and fruits ranging from cantaloupe to raspberries, foods some of the kids had never even heard of.

The verdict: When given a choice, the kids eat it.

"We notice they're taking like broccoli and cauliflower, you wouldn't expect a first grader to get excited about raw broccoli," Levy said.

It's about education Levy says; he teaches these kids exactly what's in their meals. It's his way of fighting back because one out of every three kids is overweight or obese.

"I want this next generation to have it better than I had it," Levy said.

Teachers have noticed a difference, too, saying there's no crash after lunch; the kids are energetic and ready to learn.

But there's still one true test: The sophisticated palate of a fifth grader. Matt McClure had this to say about the food of the past: "They nicknamed it the barf bar because one person ate it and then barfed."

As for this year's culinary creations, McClure said, "there's lasagna, which is delicious, they make it by hand now, they have fresh foods, salads, they have cantaloupe, pears, tons of good stuff," McClure said.

They already have the hot lunches down, the next step is to incorporate this program into their breakfasts, but they're already seeing results and the kids are growing up with better nutrition.