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Philadelphia schools offer new family-style lunches to students

As part of a new "Eatiquette" program, several Philadelphia schools are serving family-style lunches to students. The Philadelphia schools involved hope the family-style lunches will reinforce good manners and communication skills. 

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A new family-style lunch program launched at several Philadelphia schools aims to provide nutritious, low-cost lunches to students. Ayyub Payne, 6, collects food for classmates at his table at the People for People Charter School, Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, in Philadelphia.

Associated Press

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It sounds more like a restaurant order than a school lunch menu: baked ziti with a side of roasted fennel salad and, for dessert, cinnamon apple rice pudding.

But that's one of the meals offered in the cafeteria at People For People Charter School in Philadelphia. And it's served family-style. Students pass serving dishes around circular tables, where they eat off plates, not cafeteria trays, and use silverware instead of plastic utensils.

People For People is one of four schools participating in the "Eatiquette" program, which was designed by local chef Marc Vetri to provide nutritious, low-cost lunches in a setting that reinforces social niceties and communication skills.

"This is more than just eating healthy," Vetri said. "This is learning how to interact with each other."

The chef, owner of the acclaimed Vetri and Osteria restaurants in the city, plans to expand Eatiquette to another half-dozen schools this fall. The move comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture weighs broad new standards that would impose fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools.

Eatiquette is predicated on the use of fresh ingredients prepared on site. Processed meats are prohibited, and schools follow seasonal menu cycles to ensure there's no need for canned or frozen produce. The Vetri Foundation For Children donates round tables and chairs to replace traditional rectangular tables and bench seating.

At People For People, where about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, the staff prepares nearly 540 lunches per day. The meals fully comply with federal school lunch regulations and cost about $1.50 to make, excluding labor.

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