PROVO -- There was a lot of clowning around at Centennial Middle School's cafeteria Thursday, kids were throwing food and it was OK. It was all part of a carnival to celebrate the school's and district's school lunch program.
"Every kitchen worker dressed like a clown," said Belinda Robinson, kitchen manager. "We had a blast and we think we should dress like that every day."
The carnival had fun booths for the children, including a pie throwing booth featuring Officer Cody Harris, the school's campus police officer. There was also a toilet paper throwing booth, potty included.
There was a fantasy art contest, music composition contest and an essay contest with the theme "The best thing about Utah is ..." The children also held a food drive at the last minute and collected 349 cans of food for the local food bank.
With Centennial serving an average of 620 children a day through their breakfast and lunch program, it's like running a restaurant, according to Anali Haddock, children nutrition clerk. "I could not have been happier with the way things went. The kids had a great time."
According to Jenilee McComb, Provo School District nutritionist, that's why they do what they do with school lunch -- to make kids happy and healthy. "It's a way to get kids excited about school lunch and to see how excited their servers are to serve them," she said.
If you're wondering what made the children's tummy's so happy Thursday, McComb said the menu included lasagna, tossed spring salad, corn on the cob, whole grain parmesan rolls and regular milk (1% or skim) or chocolate milk.
"It was such a good meal today; it is every day," McComb said. McComb was proud to say that last year the district nutrition program won Best in State.
"We love what we do," McComb said. "I'd like to believe we have vision and are not afraid to try new things."
Trying new things is exactly what many school districts will have to do to meet the goals of Michelle Obama's school nutrition program. Provo district is seeking Obama's bronze metal and already have things in place for that to happen.
"Currently we're regulated on calories for the kids. The new regulations will be based on amounts and portions," McComb said.
Two major things that makes Provo's school lunch so impressive is that for the most part everything is made from scratch, and they are partnering with a chef to make healthy and tasty menu plans.
"Everything is analyzed, and we have our menus on a six-week cycle," McComb said. "We've increased the fruits and vegetables in the menus and the variety."
Referring to the academic health of a student McComb said, "We're every bit a part of their education. You can't learn if you're hungry and your stomach hurts."
According to district statistics, 47 percent of all Provo School children qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Nutritious meals are essential for many of these children who may not get them any where else.
"We know they are needed because of the applications we see," McComb said. "Franklin Elementary serves 200 students a day just for breakfast."
If you think this is just another school lunch program, here are some of the things McComb and her school kitchens are introducing into their programs. The foods include quinoa (a grain), jicama, spring greens, mangos and other exotic fruits, and according to Robinson some very colorful potatoes.
"We serve the sweet purple potatoes. The kids really like those. They are very flavorful," she said. "We also introduced a yogurt parfait with granola and berries for breakfast along with eggs, hash browns and toast. We were surprised at the parfait. We thought the girls would like it, but we are seeing a lot of boys asking for it too."
Residents can see more about the district's nutrition programs on its Facebook page ITSMealsatprovoschooldistrict or visit www.provo.edu/child nutrition.