WASHINGTON (AP) _ What's for lunch?

For millions of America's schoolchildren, the answer soon may be yogurt, not meat. The Agriculture Department has proposed allowing yogurt to be substituted for meat in school lunches.

Some school officials think it will be a hit with kids.

``I think they would like it, (but) certainly not as a steady diet,'' said Sally Rucker, co-manager of food service for the Rochester, Minn., schools.

Child-care providers and the food industry have pressed for the change at least for 15 years, but the Agriculture Department balked due to yogurt's lack of nutrients such as iron and niacin.

The department's recommendation leaves to school nutritionists the chore of making sure children find their nutrients elsewhere.

However they do it, using yogurt as meat is a prospect that raises the ire of cattle producers, especially considering that beef prices are depressed just now.

``USDA should be promoting meat, not pushing it under the carpet,'' Sen. Larry Pressler, D-S.D., said Thursday. ``School children must be provided nutritious and healthy meals, and they should include meat.''

Coincidentally, the Clinton administration attempted this year to prop up cattle prices by stepping up purchases of beef for schools. USDA provided schools with 146 million pounds of beef during this past school year.

School lunch programs, which feed 25 million children nationwide, are a huge market for the food industry. The federal government subsidizes the cost of the meals and sets requirement for their nutrition and content.

Agriculture already allows some meat substitutes, including cheese and peanut butter. Proponents say yogurt will add variety to lunches, is easy for children to digest and requires no preparation.

Dep