School Lunch

chickenricevt

Tomato soup, chicken with brown rice, fresh garden salad, an apple and low-fat milk from Burlington, VT schools. YUM! (here)

School lunch gets a bad rap, and it wasn’t always undeserved. But if you have visions of chicken nuggets and pizza, you must not have stepped foot in a cafeteria lately. School lunch ain’t what it used to be. Under the new school nutrition standards, there must be a greater amount of fruits and vegetables (and a greater variety), 50% of grains must be whole grain rich by July 2012 (and 100% by July 2014), milk must be either 1% (low fat) or skim (nonfat), and only nonfat milk can be flavored. Additionally, there are now standards for sodium and calorie levels (there used to be no maximum for either), and there must be 0g trans fats per serving (no previous restriction). Despite some concern over the new school guidelines, I applaud these changes, as they are absolutely a step in the right direction.

turkeyburgerportland

Beautiful meal from Portland, Oregon. (here)

Room for improvement: The new school nutrition standards are no doubt a victory for childhood nutrition, but there are still some problems to be worked out. These are the biggest challenges facing school lunch today. And yes, sadly enough, pizza sauce does count towards the vegetable requirement…

  • School lunches are definitely getting healthier. So why can your child still eat chicken fingers and french fries for lunch everyday? Two words: Competitive foods. Foods from vending machines, snack bars, and fast food chains are not a part of the National School Lunch Program, and therefore are not subject to the school nutrition standards. If we really want to create a healthy environment for our children, we need to set stricter standards for competitive foods as well. (here)
  • Unfortunately, the increased amount of fruits and vegetables on lunch trays is often correlated with the increased amount of fruits and vegetables in trash cans and compost bins. Acceptability of healthy foods is a complex issue, and it takes time to adjust. My suggestions? Get more kids to eat lunch after recess, instead of before, so that they are not rushing through lunch to go out and play, and they come in hungrier and ready to eat. Additionally, interactive nutrition programs that teach children the importance of a healthy diet, as well as where their food comes from, will be beneficial when trying to get children to embrace healthy foods. And don’t forget that acceptability starts at home! Model positive eating behaviors for your children, and encourage them to try new foods frequently. (here)

navajo

Navajo tacos on a whole wheat bread with from scratch chili, and topped with all the fixings, at Centennial Middle School in Utah. Looks delicious! (here)

Innovative Ideas: The new school nutrition standards present their share of challenges for schools trying to implement them. Here are some clever ways to combat challenges and make every student healthier. 

  • Hector P. Garcia Middle School has fought back against competitive foods by offering healthier choices at after school concession stands. (here)
  • Elkins Middle School is improving breakfast participation by serving breakfast later, grab & go style. (here)
  • Lafayette Parish School System is trying out healthy lunch vending machine kiosks to help combat the logistical issues of serving healthy meals. (here)
  • Hall High School students taste test new cafeteria food in order to increase student education of the school food service system, as well as make sure that student needs are being met in dining halls. (here)
  • Pajaro Valley Elementary School utilizes recess fruit carts with nutrition education as part of their farm to school program. This approach is popular with students, and doesn’t infringe on precious classroom time. (here)
  • This study demonstrates that catchy names for healthy foods increase children’s selection and consumption. What a simple way to help nudge children in the right direction! (here)
  • Chefs in schools are improving student’s knowledge of healthy foods and food preparation, as well increasing student interest in healthy eating. (here, here and here)

hummuswrap

Beautiful veggie hummus wrap from Ashland Public Schools in Massachusetts.  (here)

Can’t get enough?

  • All of the images above are from the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Pinterest page. Check it out to see images of successful healthy lunches from around the country, as well as get the facts on school lunch.
  • Want better school lunches in your area? Click here for all of the resources you need.

photo-1

Scene from the trenches: My 6 weeks managing an elementary school cafeteria in 2012, just as the school nutrition guidelines were getting finalized.

– Kelly

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