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Willmar has a head start on government's plan for school cafeterias

Millie Cox, 7, left, and Madison Garberding, 7, eat school lunches Thursday at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar. The school district finds itself in a good position if new guidelines to make school cafeterias healthier go into effect. The district has been serving meals for years that feature whole grain breads, low-fat dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Proposed new federal nutrition guidelines proposed Thursday seem to incorporate some things Willmar has done for some time. School meals at the Willmar Public Schools have featured whole grain breads, low-fat dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables for years.

Annette Derouin, director of food and nutrition services, co-uld not be reached Thursday, but she has spoken with the Tribune in the past about her efforts to maintain quality in the breakfasts and lunches that she serves. In 2005 she said that the students had accepted sandwiches made with whole grain bread without complaint.

Derouin, a registered dietitian, has used grant funding to help provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the district's breakfasts and lunches, as well as afternoon snacks for elementary students.

The search for healthier versions of kid favorites has been on for years.

French fries are an occasional treat and are baked and contain as little fat as possible. Corn dogs are served, but they are low-fat dogs with whole grain batter.

Willmar has been a leader in the Farm-to-School program, which brings food from local suppliers into school cafeterias. The items have included fresh apples, squash, bison hot dogs and Minnesota wild rice.

Willmar stopped selling carbonated beverages in its schools in 2004. Bottled juices and bottled water are available instead. The bottled water is particularly popular at Willmar Senior High.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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