Palm Desert pre-school serves up healthier lunches to combat childhood obesity

Palm Desert pre-school serves up healthier lunches to combat childhood obesity

PALM DESERT, Calif. - At first glance, it looks like any other school lunch. But, if you take a closer look at the hot lunch served at Sacred Heart Pre-School in Palm Desert, you'll be hard-pressed to find mystery meat or any junk food.

"It's fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy, and it comes on the little plate and it's the national plate, the good food plate," said Mona De Los Reyes, the director of Sacred Heart Pre-school.

It's the first valley pre-school certified by NAP SACC, the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Childcare. That's the long name for a program to promote healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity.

"We hope that we can be kind of a model so that they can see what a healthy lunch looks like. And these kids will grow up and hopefully not make some of the mistakes we made when we were growing up," De Los Reyes said.

The challenge for other schools that started serving healthier foods at their lunches is that they didn't taste quite this good. 

In fact, when the national school lunch program started requiring participating schools to serve lower-calorie meals last year, many students were quick to toss the idea. 

One school in New York took the healthy lunch concept to an even more extreme level: serving up an all-vegetarian menu.

"It was never really initially about the vegetarianism as it was about helping them understand that there is more choices out there," said Bob Groff, principal at P.S. 244 in Queens.

The school is the first in the country to drop meat from their lunches entirely, aiming to fill the children's plates instead with whole grains, vegetables and fruits. But not all parents eat up the idea. 

"We've had people saying my kids are not vegetarians why do they have to eat vegetarian meals?" said Michelle Trahan, parent of a student at P.S. 244.

But since switching the menu, the school claims to have higher test scores, better attendance and fewer students classified as overweight. 

It's not a menu Sacred Heart will be adopting any time soon

"I don't think all vegetarian, we have a lot of meat eaters," De Los Reyes said. 

The purpose of nutritious foods taking center stage on a school lunch menu is to reach children early.

"They'll be going to kindergarten next year and then they'll be going you know what i don't have enough protein, can I get a little meat, can I get a little cheese," De Los Reyes said.

Which creates habits that will stick with them throughout their lives. 

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