- Associated Press - Sunday, February 23, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Students at Marian Middle School in St. Louis don’t get the usual school lunch of chicken fingers, pizza or fries, thanks to a program operated by Saint Louis University.

SLU’s Department of Nutrition and dietetics makes meals at Marian, a Catholic school for low-income girls in St. Louis, and at City Garden Montessori School. Students get healthier cuisine, from vegetarian lentil soup to chicken teriyaki with sesame broccoli and brown rice, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/OjPHpb ) reported.

Much of the meat and produce come from local farmers. Last year, 70 percent of the food was produced locally, said Steve Jenkins, director of the university’s Food Innovation and Entrepreneur Program.

Eight university students provide the labor, with most studying in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics. Whitney Linsenmeyer of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics said it gives university students unbeatable experience and high standards if they choose a career in school or industrial cooking.

Food is prepared and cooked at the schools, including breakfast and snacks at Marian for those who qualify. The program charges the schools $2.93 per meal, which is the same amount they receive from the federal government for feeding nutritious meals to low-income students.

Cooks sometimes sneak in healthful items. Creamy mac and cheese is actually made with puréed butternut squash, and an Alfredo sauce is made with cauliflower purée. Kale is slipped into a quesadilla.

Steve Jenkins, director of the university’s Food Innovation and Entrepreneur Program, says the program has been a success. Many of the students say they’ve grown to like the healthier food. Some even ask for bigger helpings of broccoli.

Not every item goes over well. One dish Linsenmeyer called an Elvis Breakfast - sunflower-seed butter, banana and honey - was a bust.

“They hated it. I thought they’d love it,” she said.

Even failures help because the cooks are learning as they go. Chefs even hold student-filled focus groups to judge new dishes.

The Marian students are noticing the difference.

“It’s a lot more vegetables and fruits in it, so it is healthier,” said seventh-grader Daryn Jackson.

Not all the reviews have been positive.

“No offense, but I liked the old food more than this food. I do like the cookies, though,” seventh-grader Zoë Webster said,

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