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      Local districts work to meet new federal standards for school lunches

      The classic school lunch options may look the same, but there are a lot of changes behind the scenes. The federal government put together the largest overhaul of school lunch standards in fifteen years and now schools across the country are making changes to meet them. The goal is to cut down on fat and salt - and encourage healthier choices. The East-Syracuse Minoa school district has offered students fresh fruit for years but now students are required to take a serving of fruit or vegetable to buy a lunch.

      "It's really about making sure that within that balanced meal is a choice of a fruit and a vegetable," said ESM Superintendent Donna DeSiato.

      At ESM, the kitchen is gradually switching from frozen foods to whole foods. On Wednesday, the staff was making fresh pesto accented by herbs grown in the districts own garden. Students could still get a slice of pizza - but instead of frozen, it's homemade in the kitchen with whole grain crust

      "We no longer have chicken patties which are a highly processed food. we switched to a chicken tender which is a whole muscle and has not been processed. it's breaded and the kids are liking it," said ESM Food Service Director Nancy Kerrigan.

      Kerrigan says school districts have had to find creative ways to come up with healthy dishes students will eat. To lower the fat in hamburgers, ESM found a way to add cherries as a substitute. The new burgers are popular - even if not everyone knows why they taste so good.

      "Years ago I was in another district and we used prunes to replace fat in our chocolate chip cookies. If you tell someone that, they're not going to want to eat it," said Kerrigan.

      Schools can still offer chocolate milk but only if it is fat free. Kerrigan says she has been talking with other food services directors around Central New York about successful recipes and cost effective menu items.