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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVEN INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today in Your Health, lifestyle and living longer. But we begin at the front end of life with salad bars in elementary schools.

Here's some numbers. If you're a kid you're supposed to get three to five servings of vegetables per day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: How many kids get three to five servings of vegetables per day? Well, I can tall you that only one-third of American kids do this and only a quarter eat enough fruit. As a result, many schools are trying to teach better eating habits.

And NPR's Patti Neighmond has this report.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Meet school dietitian Ivy Marx. Marx is upbeat and energetic, and she has a mission. Over the past seven years she's helped set up 60 salad bars in Los Angeles public schools.

Ms. IVY MARX (Dietitian): I've a believer that we have to expose our kids to these choices early on so that they're accustomed to eating fruits and vegetables so that as they grow up they're going to continue to what to feed their bodies with these good foods.

Unidentified Child #1: Get a sandwich.

NEIGHMOND: Marx says the kids love salad bars. It's the adults who are skeptical.

Ms. MARX: Today I'm evaluating Logan Elementary School to determine if we could implement a fruit and vegetable bar at their school.

NEIGHMOND: Principal Diane Ramirez's concerns are typical.

Ms. DIANE RAMIREZ (Principal): How do we fit this into the space we have and get the children through the bar, seated and eating in the 45-minute time slot that they have? So that's going to be the challenge.

NEIGHMOND: Surveying the lunchroom, Ramirez and Marx try to figure out just how student traffic could be rearranged to accommodate a salad bar.

Ms. MARX: So if you can imagine, this table is gone, you have a bar in this direction. So as soon as the kids come from the line, they will go directly to the bar. So I'm envisioning that it won't slow it down that much, because they're already standing in line waiting. So while they're waiting they could be making the selections.

Ms. RAMIREZ: Of their fruits and vegetable.

Ms. MARX: Exactly. And them they'll just - it'll lead them right up to the entree window.

Ms. RAMIREZ: I think it might work.

Ms. MARX: Yeah.

Ms. RAMIREZ: It's work a try. Instead of just standing there, really have an opportunity to make some choices. I'm willing to give it a try.

Unidentified Man: Boys and girls (unintelligible)

NEIGHMOND: Dayton Heights Elementary School, another of Ivy Marx's salad bars. With surprising precision and some direction students enter the cafeteria, split into two lines, and use tongs to help themselves to fruits and vegetables.

Unidentified Child #2: Cherry tomatoes. This is real cool.

Unidentified Child #3: Kiwi. There's lots of things to eat and they're all healthy.

NEIGHMOND: Getting the kids to try these foods took some effort. There were assemblies about nutrition and teacher Marina Morales organized the Harvest of the Month, where different fruits and vegetables are talked about and tasted.

Ms. MARINA MORALES (Teacher): I sometimes do cooking lessons with them. And we definitely do science and math. We weigh things, we measure things.

NEIGHMOND: Count seeds.

Ms. MORALES: Yeah, we've done that. Counting seeds, we talk about attributes like, you know, the color, size of something, comparing them. But the other thing that I find interesting is the Harvest of the Month produce is also featured in the salad bar.

NEIGHMOND: So when kids saw jicama at the salad bar, they already knew what it was and what it tasted like. Something, as assistant principal Christopher Etan puts it, only increases their dietary horizons.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER ETAN (Assistant Principal): When we have a particularly foreign looking object in the salad bar, I'm almost like a peddler on the street. I know that you would love to try this and sometimes I help children make choices. I encourage them to be adventurous.

NEIGHMOND: At UCLA, pediatrician Wendy Slusser headed a study which found that after two years students at L.A. schools with salad bars increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by one full serving a day.

Dr. WENDY SLUSSER: (Pediatrician): And they also displaced fatty foods. So in other words, they were eating more - they were eating much more of a variety of fruits and vegetables after the salad bar, and then they were also eating lower amounts of cholesterol, significantly, and less saturated fats.

Unidentified Child #4: I picked some apples and some oranges.

Unidentified Child #5: Since there's lettuce and salads, now I eat them at home, too.

Unidentified Child #6: Definitely try new things - cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce.

NEIGHMOND: Choices you might begin to hear more and more as nationwide school districts like Los Angeles work to offer kids healthier lunches, including salad bars.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can get more tips from pediatricians on how to get your kids to love veggies at npr.org.

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