The smiling and some not-so-smiling faces in first day back to school photos posted on Facebook inspired me to think about what’s on the menu for school lunch this year. And wow school nutrition folks are getting a A+ for menu makeovers and building dedicated teams of chefs, dietitians, food safety pros and local farmers to bring good nutrition and great taste the cafeteria table. It’s almost as much fun as checking out that cute new guy who moved into town this year. Wait! Isn’t that a school cafeteria scene from Twilight?
Healthy School Lunch Menus
Can’t decide whether to get the Turkey Cobb Salad, Italian Vegetable Sandwich on a Whole Grain Wrap or the Sweet and Sour Chicken with Vegetable Fried Rice and Asian Vegetable Blend? Well, then you could be in line for lunch at one of Atlanta Public School’s high school cafeterias. Don’t forget to check out the daily ‘Salad Bowl’ offering of leafy greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes with a rotating selection of tasty toppings from kidney bean salad to slices peaches. In fact locally grown peaches are August’s ‘Produce of the Month’ on the Atlanta Public Schools’ School Nutrition website where daily menu items are listed for all grades and include gluten free and vegetarian options.
Director of Nutrition Services for Atlanta Public Schools, Marilyn Hughes says, “We are listening to our customers who are our students but we’re following nutrition guidelines too of course.” So while kid-pleasing pizza is served, the crust is whole-grainand the cheese is reduced fat. The colorful website includes student and parent friendly links to nutrition and fitness information including shared webpages created by school districts across the nation with timely nutrition tips for adding more produce to home meals, too. Here’s a sample-
Harvest of the Month for August is corn:
- Add corn to your favorite salad recipes using fresh, frozen, or canned corn.
- Stuff corn and black beans into whole-wheat pita pockets for a healthy sandwich.
- Sprinkle corn kernels on pizza for a new take on toppings.
- Add frozen or canned corn to your favorite casserole or soup.
Cobb County School menus go the extra mile to promote eating more vegetables by creating a daily cafeteria category called “vivid veggies” including Broccoli Dippers and Garden Spinach Salad.
Nationwide, milk got a makeover too. Now only 1% milk and fat free flavored milks are served. All milk contains the same nine essential nutrients. Truth is - if there’s only white milk offered, many kids will skip it totally. So flavored milks ( made with way less sugar than before!) are a great way to get those 9 needed nutrients consumed.
What’s not for lunch?
Foods containing trans fats and whole milk have been kicked out of school. Fried foods are limited. In a response to concerns about childhood obesity and overall wellness public schools nationwide must follow nutrition plans regulated by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act enacted in 2012.
Many who continue to criticize school lunch programs may not be aware of the efforts being made to teach the ABC’s of good nutrition by improving what’s on our children’s plates. Hughes says, “I believe if more parents knew the full team dedicated to their children’s health including certified chefs, registered dietitians, sustainability and food safety specialists they’d realize we’re working to pack the best nutrition into every bite.” In many school districts you can add local farmers to the list, too. Farm to school programs are cropping up nationwide including the Georgia Grown initiative.
But Will They Eat It?
Just as adults can easily speed past the listing of ‘light entrees’ on restaurant menus to order high fat favorites; kids and teens can ignore the sweet potatoes in favor of the pizza. Hey why not sweet potato on the pizza? Stay tuned. It may be showing up for class at a school near you. I can’t wait to see what’s for lunch tomorrow.
Parents Teach Your Children Well
• Be a positive role model for your child. Ask what they ate for lunch today and review choices to emphasize the need for a variety of food groups.
• Remember that children ages 7-10 should be getting 3 servings from the milk group, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 5-6 servings of grains, and 2 servings from the meat/bean group daily.
Want some suggestions on how to pack a healthy, tasty lunch from home? Watch this fun video from BestFoodFacts.org as I shop for foods appropriate for different ages. After all, the tiny second grader doesn’t eat the same thing as the big football playing senior!
Now let’s start having fun- it’s time to go BACK TO SCHOOL!