LEWISTON — Hot lunch at McMahon Elementary School on Tuesday was grilled chicken bites made with breast meat. Gone were the fried, breaded nuggets from a mixture of chicken parts.

The chicken bites had 25 percent less sodium and one-third less fat than the nuggets, Lewiston School Department Nutrition Director Kim Austin said.

The salad bar offered brown rice instead of white rice, leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce. “Iceberg lettuce has no vitamins, no minerals, no value. It’s a filler,” Austin said.

French fries and potato puffs were replaced by sweet potato fries or bites. Pizza was made with wheat dough.

The good news is that students are eating most of the healthier foods Lewiston schools began introducing last month.

Getting ready for September when new federal regulations will require schools to serve meals with fewer calories, fat and sodium, and more fruits and vegetables, Lewiston schools are trying different foods, Austin said.

Students say they like most of the changes. Ethan Weiss, 11, cleaned his tray of barbecued chicken bites, vegetables, cantaloupe and milk. “It’s good,” he said, adding that he didn’t miss the nuggets and fries.

Sydney Roy, 9, ate chicken, broccoli and rice. “I like it,” she said. She eats hot lunch every day. “I’m eating it all.”

Her sister Madison, 10, said the new food is “better and healthier.”

Kelsie Lynch, 10, said she liked the new quesadillas that have replaced chicken patties, but she misses the ravioli.

On Tuesday, students weren’t touching the salad bar’s salsa, made with black beans, corn, tomatoes, green peppers and lime juice.

“It’s very, very nutritious,” loaded with protein, low in fat and loved by teachers, said McMahon Nutrition Manager Linda Boudreau. Students also were not eating the sweet potato fries or bites. Hopefully, they’ll get used to sweet potatoes, Boudreau said.

Parents Eric and Sheila Roy said they were delighted with the menu changes.

“It looks a lot better, more nutritious,” he said. The new menu “is getting away from sugary, fatty fried foods.”

Making sure their children eat healthy food at school “is huge,” Roy said. Last winter he and his wife changed what they eat at home and lost weight. They starting sending their daughters to school with cold lunches because they didn’t want them eating unhealthy food at school.

Since healthier foods were introduced last month, the family has gone back to hot lunch, he said.

The biggest change in federal guidelines this fall is a cap on calories, Austin said.

“In grades K-6 we cannot have more than 650 calories per meal,” she said. “Most of our meals were 750 or 800 calories. For the middle school, it’s 700 calories per meal, and 750 calories at the high school. We’re having to cut 100 to 150 calories for each meal. It’s significant.”

Hot lunches in Lewiston schools cost $1.25 for elementary students, a price that hasn’t changed in 14 years, Austin said. Serving healthier foods will cost about $100,000 more per year, Austin said. She plans to make up the difference, in part, by improving efficiency.

The federal guidelines came out in January. In February, Lewiston nutrition staff started planning new meals. Next year’s pizza will have less cheese and sauce but will be made with better, more expensive ingredients. Calories for one slice of cheese pizza will be 160, down from 220.

It will take time for students to get used to some of the new food, Austin said.

When salad bars were introduced three years ago, “we threw away more during the first two months than the kids ate,” she said. Now there’s a green salad every day at every school. If she took away the salads today, “the kids would scream,” she said.

There’s hope, she said, for the black bean salsa and sweet potato fries.

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