EDUCATION
01/18/2013 04:16 pm ET

Healthy School Lunches Served Up In California Through Farm-To-School Program

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President Bill Clinton has stepped alongside First Lady Michelle Obama in the fight against childhood obesity by taking his message to schools.

Speaking to Katherine Finchy Elementary School students in Palm Springs, Calif. this week, Clinton spoke of creating healthier campuses with better food and more opportunities for physical activity in the fattest country in the world.

Coachella Valley Schools are among 15,000 across the country who have joined on to the Alliance For A Healthier Generation, a partnership between the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association that seeks to combat childhood obesity in America through social change.

"I'm starting young to eat healthy so when I get older I'll be in shape and I'll be healthy," one Katherine Finchey student told NBC's TODAY.

In America, 17 percent -- or 12.5 million -- of children aged 2-19 are obese, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 16 percent or so are overweight and at risk of becoming obese.

Experts point to a culture of high fat and low quality, low nutrition eating -- combined with minimal physical activity -- as the main culprit. The OECD has called for a shift in habits and increased education in health and nutrition.

That's where schools in California have been leaders in a nationwide effort to bring healthier food to school cafeterias.

At Katherine Finchy Elementary, the farm-to-school program is supporting local farmers as well as student health and education. There, the food is tied into course curriculum.

"What I really like is that I can meet and I can see the kids that actually eat the fruit that I grow," local farmer Bob Knight told TODAY. "It's really gratifying to be able to say, 'OK, my kids in my own school district are eating the food that I grow and I can get feedback from it."

Impact-oriented company Revolution Foods has also taken a large stake in California's school cafeterias, serving up fresh, "never frozen" foods to students with an emphasis on nutrition.

California-based online company Ag Link connects school districts and local farmers on the Web, helping districts meet new federal requirements for fruits and vegetables on lunch trays.

The new policies, spearheaded by the first lady and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, marks the first major nutritional school meal overhaul in over 15 years. School lunches must now offer less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains and a broader selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The rules also placed a calorie cap on lunches: 650 calories for elementary school lunches, 700 for middle schools and 850 for high schools.

But widespread backlash led the USDA to yield ground in December, scrapping the daily and weekly limits of meats and grains.

So how are the students faring under the program at Finchy Elementary School? Watch the full TODAY report above.

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