Click photo to enlarge
Darius Brown, 17, eats a piece of pizza for lunch at Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif. on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. The Liberty Union High School District is starting to offer healthier, more balanced meals starting in April and beginning at Liberty High. Out with the a la carte and in with the healthier meal combos. (Dan Honda/Staff)

As far as Christian Quintor is concerned, there's nothing complicated about lunch -- it's the same every day.

One Pop-Tart.

The 14-year-old Liberty High student is rail-thin and insists he doesn't get hungry during his afternoon classes, but district administrators nonetheless are hoping that impending changes to the school's cafeteria menu will encourage teens like Christian to make healthier choices.

Starting April 2, the Brentwood campus will become the first of Liberty Union High School District's three mainstream schools to eliminate the option of ordering food a la carte and instead make the food part of require a balanced meal that will include fruit, vegetables and milk.

Freedom and Heritage High Schools will follow suit this fall.

"Now you'll have to be nutritious," responds Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Gene Clare when students tell him they only want a slice of pizza.

It's not that every item on the current menu represents a step toward obesity: Kids can order chicken Caesar salad, fruit bowls and yogurt layered with granola and fruit.

Moreover, no one serving may have more than 400 calories or contain more than 4 grams of fat per 100 calories, according to state Department of Education rules.

In addition, since school started in August, the district has replaced high-sugar Gatorade with a less-fattening version, swapped out greasy potato chips for baked ones and substituted whole wheat bread for white.

Even so, Clare decided that lunches still could be more well-rounded.

He also wanted to stop singling out the 19.6 percent of students districtwide who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Their status already entitles them to a complete meal, but until now the logistics of feeding the masses meant they had to stand in a separate line to get it.

"I had a concern that the (dedicated) lunch line ... was a discriminatory practice," Clare said, noting that some teens have told him they don't take advantage of the discounted meals because they feel self-conscious.

Students who have been buying individual items such as chicken chow mein, bean and cheese burritos and spicy chicken sandwiches will be expected to choose from among several kinds of fruit and vegetables that will include baby carrots, celery and cucumber, said Food Services Coordinator Shirley Enck.

Milk also will be on their tray -- whether it's the strawberry- or chocolate-flavored nonfat kind or ordinary low-fat milk is up to them, she said.

And if students aren't hungry, the district will encourage them to put their food on a "share table" instead of throwing it away, to help those who didn't bring a lunch from home or who want seconds, Clare said.

Perhaps the only downside is that the cost of lunch will increase to $3 for most students; those who qualify for financial help will continue paying $2, Clare said.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141.