Like others around the nation, the Marysville school district is changing its cafeteria menus to reflect new federal standards for school lunches.

Like others around the nation, the Marysville school district is changing its cafeteria menus to reflect new federal standards for school lunches.

But thanks to a gradual transition to healthier options that started about two years ago, Marysville has been able to keep a decline in lunch sales to a minimum, according to Joanne Morbitzer, the district's director of food services.

She said the number of students buying lunches has dropped by about 1 percent, but that could be for a couple of different reasons.

"We're attributing some of that to the meal pattern," she said. "Some of it may have just been the economic climate with parents who honestly can't pay for meals (except for) a couple times a week and their children pack (a lunch) a couple times a week."

Morbitzer said the district started making changes to its menus about two years before the new federal guidelines were enacted.

"We knew they were coming, so every year we started changing over a few food items so that it wasn't just one big, massive change in one year," she said.

For instance, regular chocolate chip cookies were replaced with a reduced-fat recipe that uses 51-percent whole grains. Domino's pizza is served once a week at the high school but now it has a whole-grain crust, low-sodium sauce and low-fat cheese -- "but it's still Domino's."

The district focused primarily on the high school the first year it incorporated some of the changes.

"We got rid of some of the higher-calorie, larger-volume drinks and things like that -- taking out a 20-ounce and bringing in a 16-ounce, and then the next year, transitioning down to a 12-ounce," Morbitzer said.

Making the switch has meant spending about 3 percent more on food, although she said some of that increase may be due to general market trends.

"A part of this new plan is additional portions of fruits and vegetables. We needed to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, which obviously cost more than canned products.

"Whole-grain items cost more than traditional white bread," Morbitzer said.

"We have not raised our (student lunch) prices in Marysville in five years. We were able to absorb that internally and continue to do so," she added. "We'll look at it in the spring on whether we need to look at a meal price increase."

Some of the new guidelines call for a half-cup of fruit per day for elementary and middle school students and a full cup for high school students, plus three-fourths of a cup of vegetables daily for the elementary students and a full cup for high school students.

"All of our food products are required to be trans-fat free and the weekly menu, as planned, must average less than 10 percent saturated fats from calories," Morbitzer said.

Sodium restrictions are occurring every year for the next four years.

"This is a slow, gradual process allowing manufacturers time to reformulate products," she said.

This year, the schools are still serving 50-percent whole-grain products but next year, they will serve items that are 100-percent whole-grain-rich.

"Whole-grain-rich means that the product or the breading on the product must contain at least 51 percent or more whole grains to be allowable on the school meal program," Morbitzer said.

The district website offers details about the meals available at each building, such as the carbohydrate count for each meal on the menu.

Overall, Morbitzer said the district has not seen significant changes in food-buying habits among students, something she attributes to the gradual transition.

"The kids have been generally very accepting of it," she said. "Even with all these changes, it is still possible to offer appetizing and healthy options for the students."