SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Several schools in the Sacramento area got help from nutritionists at UC Davis to give students healthier choices.

Madelyn Madsen eats lunch with her friends every day, but she no longer has her bad eating habits.

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“Chips, pizza, garbage,” she said.

Those foods are gone, replaced with healthier options.

“Every meal I eat broccoli, or lettuce, salad, beans or asparagus. I love that,” she said.

The change in eating habits for the fifth grader is thanks to a nutrition program by UC Davis researchers who sought to do more than lecture the children about food.

“We don’t really make a difference and allow it to take hold and continue if it is not reinforced in all of the areas of their life,” said assistant project scientist Rachel Sherr.

And for Madsen, the change was dramatic.

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Before I did this I didn’t really like how I looked, so I actually lost 20 pounds just by starting this program,” she said.

The program includes four parts: Classroom education, parental involvement, a student-run garden, and making local fruits and vegetables available at school lunches.

The goal was to get these kids to pick up apples instead of chips. Not only did they ditch junk food, many of them are no longer considered obese or overweight.

“In one school year we saw pretty dramatic drops—roughly a quarter of the kids moved down in BMI classification status,” Sherr said.

Body mass index is measured by height and weight. Some kids simply grew taller, but didn’t add any pounds. But researchers say the large number of kids who dropped into a normal weight class is very telling of the program’s success.

“Those drops in BMI are showing a pattern of better lifestyle choices which is really the goal,” Sherr said.

Research data aside, Madsen says she smiles more these days, and is even doing better in school.

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“I can show them what you can do if you eat all this good stuff,” she said. “It can change your life.”