WESTMINSTER -- One day at Manchester Elementary School, cafeteria manager Rose Frebertshauser mysteriously handed out a sticker to every third child in line and told them she'd explain later.
After the 300 children had eaten their "deluxe burger," she took aside the 100 students with stickers for a small survey. Their stipend for participating would be a cookie.
It turned out the burger was made of ground turkey instead of higher-fat beef. But the children liked it, she said.
"I told them they could have a cookie whether they marked the 'yes' or the 'no' column," Frebertshauser said. All 100 marked "yes," they liked the turkey burger.
This week, about 60 cafeteria workers are taking a five-day course on new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, and how to adapt standard recipes to trim the fat, sugar and salt.
The 1990 dietary guidelines urge eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
While the rest of the nation for years has been cutting back on fat in recipes, it took a bit longer for the USDA and suppliers to schools to follow suit because of bureaucracy, said Eulalia Muschik, food services supervisor for Carroll County Public Schools.
Schools depend on government subsidies on items such as flour and dairy products to help suppliers keep costs down. Also, the challenge for schools is to make healthful lunches the children will buy and eat, Muschik said.
"We are self-supporting, so if we don't sell meals, we don't have a program," Muschik said.
Taking the USDA recipes for potato salad, cole slaw and salad dressings, Muschik substituted low-fat yogurt for half the mayonnaise. Part-skim mozzarella replaces high-fat processed cheeses in chef's salads, lasagna and casseroles.
"What we're finding is it doesn't make a difference in the taste," she said.
A ground-turkey noodle soup is low in fat and has a fragrant thyme-allspice combination that more than makes up for the lower salt content.
Instead of cookies and cakes, children will get muffins and quick-breads in which applesauce replaces much of the fat and sugar in traditional recipes, and half the flour is whole wheat.
While the cafeteria workers can make nutritious balanced lunches, it won't do much good if the children don't eat the healthful parts.
"We really have to work hard at getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables," Muschik said. "That's the part of the meal that gets refused the most often."
Fortunately, she said, Carroll children love broccoli, unlike their counterparts in Montgomery County who hated it. Muschik worked there before coming to Carroll 10 years ago. Vegetable soup and corn are other favorites here. They also like raw broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery served with a dip. Muschik devised a ranch dip with more yogurt and less sour cream and mayonnaise.
Muschik said she is able to create the more healthful foods at no extra cost. Yogurt is about the same price as mayonnaise, and ground turkey is cheaper than beef.
The hands-down favorite food in any school system is pizza, Muschik said. Carroll schools buy their pizzas already made, and so far have not found a supplier who makes a whole-wheat crust.
"I guess there's not a large enough demand out there for those kinds of things," she said.
"That's the problem with cooking in quantity -- your ingredients have to be readily available."