Forget the greasy tater tots, mystery-meat and drab, overcooked canned green beans and bland white bread that once were the mainstays of typical school lunches. Students in the Panther Valley School District can now choose from among succulent fresh fruits, crisp, bright vegetables and flavorful whole grain breads for their midday meals.

The school board feasted their eyes on four trays of holding sample lunches that sat in the middle of the room during a public meeting Thursday. The trays holding fresh apples, oranges, peach slices, whole grain rolls, fresh baby carrots, crunchy celery slices, corn, low-fat or skimmed milk, and green beans offered a visual comparison of lunch options from this a year and next. The lunches reflect new standards set by the federal government.

"The kids are receptive to it and have been eating it," said Vicky Stahr, regional manager of The Nutrition Group, which provides the school meals.

Stahr said the menu changes bring Panther Valley in line with the revised federal nutrition standards.

Missy Collevechio, Food Service Director for The Nutrition Group, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture-driven changes are aimed at offering "school meals that are nutrient rich and calorie appropriate by increasing the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat free milk, offering larger portions of fruits and vegetables, reducing levels of sodium and saturated fat, and modifying calorie requirements to meet the needs of school-age children."

The changes are the first significant revisions in school lunch programs in 30 years.

The school board later approved to extend The Nutrition Group's contract with the school district for another year, at a loss of no more than $59,307.

The cost of lunches will rise slightly, given the larger portions and bigger variety of fresh foods required by the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The price will rise by a dime for students and by a quarter for adults.

Elementary students will pay $2.35; middle and high school students will pay $2.45 and adults will pay $3.75.

"The Nutrition Group, Panther Valley's Food Service Provider has always strived to provide nutritious meals to students," said Collevechio, addressing parents. "We are pleased to reassure you that your child's cafeteria program already reflects many of the nutrition principles mandated in USDA's new regulations as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act."

In a related matter, the district plans a Health and Wellness Fair from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 8, at the elementary school.