Teaching methods aren't the only innovations at Madrone Trail Public Charter School. Come lunch time, students are learning what foods are best for their bodies and how packing a lunch can protect the planet.

Teaching methods aren't the only innovations at Madrone Trail Public Charter School.

Come lunch time, students are learning what foods are best for their bodies and how packing a lunch can protect the planet.

"We're promoting organic if possible and definitely healthy lunches," said Corinne Brion, administrator of the new Medford school.

Before starting the school's inaugural year, teachers specified the menu: sandwiches, main-dish leftovers, cheese, meat, soup, fresh vegetables and fruit. These wholesome, filling choices should be packed in reusable containers, teachers said. Sweets of any kind, including cookies, soda or squeeze packets of flavored yogurt are prohibited. The school does not provide lunches.

"We kind of joke around about sending a Twinkie just to shock everybody," said 41-year-old Erin Mahanay, whose daughter, Vivian, is in first grade at Madrone Trail.

Yet the healthy-lunch mandate stands in sharp contrast to the state of lunches in most public schools, said Mahanay, a kindergarten teacher at Medford's Orchard Hill Elementary.

"The things that kids brought were pretty appalling to me," Mahanay said. "There were no guidelines."

Many pre-packaged, single-serving items like Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Mahanay said, are loaded with fat, salt and preservatives. The extra plastic and paper wrappings, Madrone Trail officials said, conflict with the school's emphasis on recycling and reusing.

"We all get in such a big hurry, and we're so used to all these little, packaged things," said Sue Carroll, a 47-year-old Phoenix parent and member of Madrone Trail's board.

"But it hasn't always been that way."

To cut down on packaging, Carroll said she is looking to buy her first-grade daughter, Hailey, a plastic-lined cloth sandwich wrap like that one printed with leaves, fish and planets that kindergarten student Joah Margulis showed off last week at school.

"We can clean it," Margulis said.

Reusable packaging starts a dialogue with children about environmental responsibility, Carroll said. And in a return to the "good, old-fashioned lunch," she added, students eat together in the classroom and talk.

"They want some socialization around eating and meal-time," Carroll said.

To involve her daughter in choices about food, Mahanay buys summer strawberries, and 6-year-old Vivian helps make freezer jam for her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mahanay also packs slices of cheese and turkey with whole-grain crackers so Vivian can assemble her own sandwiches at school. Cookie cutters lend fun shapes to meat and cheese, Mahanay said.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.