To the folks who say the federal government can do nothing right, allow us to present Yohana Vasquez-Perla, 8, and Jamil Camacho, 9.

Both are third-graders at Richmond Avenue School in Atlantic City. And thanks to the big, bad federal government - and officials in the Atlantic City School District - they both like broccoli. That's an important victory for federal policy.

Last year, new federal regulations under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 took effect. The new rules require schools serving federally subsidized lunches and breakfasts to replace high-fat, high-calorie meals with smaller portions of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat grains and other healthier offerings. School districts that get their menus certified as being in compliance receive an extra 6 cents per meal from the federal government - which can add up to a tasty chunk of change.

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But the Atlantic City schools have been using the new guidelines for the past four years - which means that healthy school meals are the only kind of school meals Yohana and Jamil have ever eaten.

They never knew school meals that included french-fries, pepperoni and ice cream. They eat healthy as a matter of course - and they know why.

"It keeps us focused in school. It keeps our minds fresh," Yohana recently told Press staff writer Elisa Lala.

"We're not all tired and going crazy in class, like when we have too much sugar. We can pay attention more," said Jamil.

Pretty astute for third-graders.

Changes in federal policy can often seem rather far removed from the day-to-day lives of people - particularly young people. But these changes to the federal school lunch and breakfast programs are transforming lives. All students getting free or subsidized meals will now have the same experience that Atlantic City students have had - healthy, nutritious school food that starts in kindergarten.

The problems related to childhood obesity - high blood pressure, heart issues, diabetes and more - are well-known today. And the obesity problem is particularly pervasive among children in low-income areas, where it can be difficult to find healthy, affordable food choices.

That's why it's so important that subsidized school meals be as healthy as possible.

And when making healthy choices begins at a young age, they don't seem like choices at all. They just seem like lunch.

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