When thousands of children report to Department of Defense Dependents Schools this week, they’ll find a few changes in the lunch line.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which provides about 24,000 meals a day at 110 schools around the globe, is expanding the menu for the main line program and altering the options for those choosing a la carte.

“We want to improve the menu for the students, while adding items that are more nutritious,” said Maj. Sarah Flash, staff dietitian at the agency’s headquarters in Texas.

The agency has been surveying pupils and parents about likes and dislikes and monitoring stateside school districts, Flash said.

Survey results found kids wanted items such as macaroni and cheese, chicken quesadillas and noodles.

But they’re not so fond of peas, which will be phased out.

“That’s our least-liked vegetable,” Flash said.

There’s nothing wrong nutritionally with peas, but many other changes are based on new nutrition guidelines that many stateside schools are adopting. So chicken poppers will be replaced by lower fat grilled chicken pieces.

Flash said school menus vary depending on available facilities, but the basic menu is based on a six-week rotation of items, so children won’t see the same food options very often. A standard meal contains five components, Flash said: meat or an alternative; vegetable; fruit; grain; and milk. AAFES options will now fall more in line with the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines on nutrition.

That seemed like good news for parents surveyed last week at Aviano Air Base in Italy. They were cautiously optimistic when told about the changes.

“Less fried is good,” said Virginia Profenna, whose daughter, Chiara, will enter kindergarten, joining her older brother, Andres, in school. “I like that. I think they eat too much fried food.”

Five-year-old Sarah Smith gave her thumbs up to most of the new selections. Her mom, Sonya, wasn’t sure about egg rolls or sweet potatoes, saying it was “questionable” whether her daughter would eat them.

DaNae Hasselstrom, who will enter the third grade, didn’t have any reservations about one addition.

“Macaroni and cheese,” she said with a smile. “Yummm. Macaroni and cheese.”

Her mother, Trisha, smiled and shook her head while watching her reaction.

“Her brother (Steven) is probably macaroni and cheesed out,” she said. “But not her.”

Older students will probably notice the changes more than their younger counterparts. Those who choose the a la carte line will find some popular items, such as French fries, gone. Pizza and corn dogs will still be there, but will be made with healthier ingredients, Flash said, and portion sizes will generally be smaller.

“No more super-sized or large portions,” she said. “They’ll be what they’re supposed to be.”

High-sugar fruit drinks such as Snapple, Tropicana Twists and Capri Sun won’t be around. Flash said fruit drinks must contain at least 50 percent fruit juice to make the cut.

Melissa Harris, who will enter the seventh grade, was less enthusiastic about some of the changes than her mom. She gave her approval to several of the new additions, but was disappointed to hear about the french fries.

“I know they’re healthier,” she admitted, referring to the new choices and glumly looking toward her mom.

“I think it’s good if they have some regular home-cooked stuff,” Marion Harris said. “Probably if you ask the kids, they’re going to go for the fast-food stuff. But I don’t like them to get used to food-court food.”

What’s for lunch?

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which provides lunch for 110 Department of Defense Education Activity schools around the globe, plans to change its menu this year. The changes were based on survey results and a desire to make meals healthier.

Coming in

Macaroni and cheeseHoney barbecued ribletsEgg rollsChicken quesadillasTurkey and gravyNoodles, with or without sauceSweet potatoesGoing out

Sloppy JoesChicken poppersPeasMost dessertsChanges are also in store for the a la carte line, where pupils will see smaller portions being offered. Items such as corn dogs and pizza will now feature whole- wheat coatings or crusts. French fries will disappear and be replaced by oven fries. Fruit drinks with less than 50 percent juice join soft drinks on the no-purchase list.

Source: AAFES

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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