The 8-year-old had become a hawker. Plastic gloves on her hands, she held up the orange sticks and offered them to whomever came by. If they nodded yes, she plopped two a piece on the yellow tray.
Sometimes, they actually spoke back to her, and often enough, one person in line seemed to set off a trend.
Like 8-year-old Cecilia Ramirez.
"Yes, please," she said to 9-year-old Katie Kelley's question.
Katie continued with her questioning.
This is National School Lunch Week, and children across the nation, including at Empire Elementary School, ate a lunch of pizza, carrot sticks, broccoli, ranch dressing, chocolate pudding and low-fat milk.
The theme of National School Lunch Week is "School Lunch, It's Instrumental." Nutritionist Maryann Baring and her cafeteria aides dressed '50s-style to represent music from that era. In the cafeteria, jazz music recorded by teacher Christina Bourne played Thursday - National School Lunch Day - and students learned about healthy habits from teacher Ruthlee Caloiaro.
When Cecilia moved on through the line, two girls behind her followed her example and took carrots. Then Cecilia eagerly nodded her head yes to broccoli. Just why did this girl want carrots and broccoli when others so easily passed them by?
"Because they're vegetables," she said. "They're healthy."
Elementary students in schools participating in National School Lunch Week and its federal program must average 710 lunch calories a day over a monthlong period. Saturated fat must be kept to 10 percent or less of those calories, and overall fat to 30 percent or less.
"The target is 710 calories a day," said Bonnie Eastwood, director of nutrition. "We go a little bit over here and there (on the calories), depending on what we're serving, but 710 is the minimum you have to meet. You can go over it, but you can't go under it."
But the government looks at what is served as an average for the month, and at Empire this month, lunch will average 720 calories. Saturated and overall fats will reach just two-thirds of the maximums allowed.
The district uses a program called NutriKids to come up with menus. The criteria is based on the 2005 federal dietary guidelines, the FDA food pyramid and other requirements for iron, Vitamin A and C, carbohydrates and more.
It's obvious some students know healthy choices are important. Karin Gonzalez, 7, asked for both carrots and broccoli going through the lunch line.
"They're really healthy for me," she said, setting her yellow tray down at the table. "And my mom says they're good.'
Would she eat vegetables more often if they were put before her?
"I think so," she said. "I think people should get healthier, and (these foods) are healthy for anyone."
How about more pizza on the menu, then?
She shrugs - she doesn't care.
When students come into the cafeteria at lunch, they enter a three- or four-digit code on a keypad in front of the register that brings up their picture, their grade, homeroom number and any food sensitivities on a screen monitored by Baring.
It also indicates whether they pay full price for meals, which is $2; or receive a free or reduced-price lunch under the federal program.
"Today, (students) all over the country are eating the same lunch as you," said Baring as students went through her line and she handed them a postcard-size fact sheet about dairy health. "It's important for you to know how good school lunch is for you."
-- Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1219.
Children all over the country in participating schools ate the same meal last Thursday in celebration of National School Lunch Week's "School Lunch is Instrumental."
• Piano Pizza
• Cool Carrot Sticks
• Bebop Broccoli with Ragtime Ranch Dressing
• Jazzy Chocolate Pudding
• Modern Milk