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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Classroom teachers can influence children to make healthy food selections in school cafeterias, a University of Tennessee nutrition professor said Tuesday.

Dr. Carol Costello applauded the federal government’s new push for more healthful diets in school lunch programs, but she said motivation and education are the keys.

Under new regulations issued Tuesday, schools will be required to offer more fruits, vegetables and grains to students.

“If you make nutrition interesting and fun, then potentially the kids will learn and make good choices in the cafeterias,” Costello said.

“A lot of schools don’t have just the regular lunch any more. They have the a la carte, the sandwiches, the pizzas. Those are tough choices for kids; adults would have trouble making those decisions,” she said.

“Pizza is not the worst food available, but you need to supplement that with fruits and vegetables, not have the heavy-meat pizza, and not consume it every day.”

UT-Knoxville this week is holding a Nutrition Science Institute, where K-12 science and health teachers in Tennessee learn about nutrition.

“We’re trying to get nutrition counted as a science credit course in the schools,” Costello said. “The teachers are learning nutrition because it is a science. If kids got science credit for it, as a full course, they might take that course.”

But parents also have an important role to play, she said.

“You can’t dump everything on the school system as far as providing everything nutritious and educating the kids. Parents have to do their part.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Monday: “Children don’t eat by regulation, and they don’t make food choices based on federal standards, and kids don’t read government handbooks.”

The Disney company has produced two public service cartoons urging children to follow the government’s food pyramid. The cartoons will begin airing June 19 on The Disney Channel and will be available to all other TV channels.

The educational publishing company, Scholastic Inc., of New York, is providing teaching guides, posters, videos and software under a $1.4 million government contract.

The government’s dietary guidelines, adopted in 1990, tell people to eat a variety of foods; choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol; select plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products; and use salt only in moderation.

The only specific numerical goal in the school lunch guidelines was to cut the fat content of meals to an average of 30 percent of total calories, with saturated fat accounting for no more than 10 percent.

Contact: Carol Costello (615-974-6241)