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Philadelphia schools offer new family-style lunches to students

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That's higher than what the school paid for meals before implementing the Vetri program last year. People For People operations director Andre Williams would not be more specific, but said officials are trying to offset the increase through grants and other means.

"It costs more, but we believe there is a benefit," Williams said.

Each weekday before lunch, student "table captains" don black chef coats, lay down plastic tablecloths, create place settings, pour water and serve salad. After their peers arrive and eat the first course, captains return to the kitchen to bring back the entree and, later, dessert.

That's a lot less chaotic than the old way of lining up buffet-style, which often led to pushing and shoving, said seventh-grader Kealani Gambrel. And the meals aren't bad either, she said after sampling Tuesday's menu: Romaine lettuce and carrots topped with homemade tomato vinaigrette, roast beef and garlic-roasted potatoes, and an apple for dessert.

"It's healthier for us to eat," said Gambrel, noting students now get salads every day. "I think they should add just a little bit of seasoning to the food."

But many of her peers — even while praising some new dishes like curried chicken — complain that they miss the French fries, pizza, burgers and cheesesteaks they ate last year.

That doesn't surprise Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. Schools have a hard time making wholesome food seem appealing because students have grown up in a "junk-food culture," she said.

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