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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Milton, Vt.) - In school cafeterias in Milton, Vt., students like Will Muzzy, 11, know exactly why lunchtime is so important.
"So I can have a healthy meal and be strong," Muzzy said.
The district has earned praise from the state for its commitment to promoting nutrition at school. Approaches include offering more fresh fruits and vegetables, incorporating food from Vermont farms, and letting kids taste-test recipes made from scratch, not just heated-up frozen meals.
"It gives kids a choice of what they want to eat," explained Cassie Allen, 11.
That work has now landed Milton on the radar screen of the White House. Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama will host Muzzy and Allen at the White House, along with three classmates and chaperones. Mrs. Obama has made combating childhood obesity a priority. She'll talk to the fifth graders about health and well-being as they work with her on planting her famous vegetable garden on the South Lawn of the White House.
Asked what she plans to tell Mrs. Obama about the lunches she enjoys in Milton, Sara Schwall, 10, chuckled, "They're better than yours!"
Milton's food services director, Steve Marinelli, showed New England Cable News nine different entrée options students had Tuesday. Marinelli said choice is a key component to promoting healthy eating.
"Kids truly enjoy the meals they have here," he added.
The old cafeteria standbys are still here, like pizza and tacos, but the school encourages kids to not forget the salad bar.
"Now it's not that they're just grabbing a slice of pizza and walking away," Marinelli said. "They're getting some salad. They're getting some fruit. We always are trying to provide fresh fruit, whole proteins, and get away from the freezer-to-oven entrees that are the stigma of school lunch."
"You have to make sure you have enough fruits and vegetables, and not too much pizza and hamburgers," said Nolan Deep, 11, another student making the trip to Washington, D.C.
The town of Milton raised $30,000 to fund the kids' trip. When they get to D.C., they'll meet other children from Knox County, Tenn., Bradenton, Fla., and Somerville, Mass. All are scheduled to help plant Mrs. Obama's garden Thursday.
"I think it's cool because we get to meet Michelle Obama," said 11-year-old Hannah Svenson.
The school is planning its own grant-funded vegetable beds to grow produce to serve in the cafeteria. The students told NECN they may be able to bring back some tips on planting it from the First Lady herself. The students also plan to visit other national landmarks and monuments in D.C., chaperones said.