I was recently invited to attend the mecca of conferences for school nutrition programs. The School Nutrition Association hosts an annual national conference and this year it happened to be in Denver! I was one of three bloggers to attend and was honored to attend. (I have to admit though, Adam Sandler’s Lunch Lady skit in my head the whole time.)
Okay, so yeah, that’s what I remembered from school years ago. I won’t tell you HOW many years ago… Let’s just keep that a secret.
I was greeted by Peggy Lawrence, the Director of Food Service for Rockdale County Public Schools in Georgia. She is a spokesperson for the non-profit for the School Nutrition Association. She’s beed the director for 13 years and manages the budgets and menu planning and everything associated with the nutrition for her district. She serves over 19,000 meals and snacks per day in her district.
That’s a whole lotta food!
Peggy walked around and showed me the initiatives she has taken to make her district healthier. There are new USDA nutrition standards that released this year (I’ll share those in a sec) that will be a requirement for all schools to follow. Peggy has had those in place for a long time already. She shared how delicate a balance it is to provide the healthy nutrition we want all kids to have access to, but it also has to be appealing and taste good or it’s not effective. She was quoted once saying that she can make the food as healthy as possible, but if the kids won’t eat it, then all she’ll have is the healthiest trash cans in the area.
So how do you balance nutrition rich foods with something kids will actually eat? At the SNA annual conference, I saw a ton of familiar brands, ones I personally use and love, who are helping schools with that very issue.
Say the kids want pizza, there are companies who make a whole wheat crust, low fat cheese and real tomato sauce. It’s still pizza, it still tastes great, but it’s better than a deep dish, greasy, high fat cheese one, right?! Domino’s was at the conference as well as UNO, two names I know and love (Shout out to Ramon at Domino’s! #RamonWOW!). There were even quite a few companies offering Gluten Free Crusts and products. LOVE this as I have a gluten/dairy/soy free kid myself and right now, school lunches would be hard for him.
Another way they are getting healthier is with the pasta. Barilla now offers products with 51% whole grains in the noodles. Which is new USDA requirement. Lots of fresh produce was featured and lots of new recipes offered.
Let me tell you a little about the new guidelines (I’m gonna get all edumacational here for a bit. Stay with me now.)
USDA’s New Meal Pattern (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, effective starting July 2012, establishing maximum sodium and calorie limits for meals. It also is requiring schools to serve larger portions of fruits and veggies. Student have to take at least one fruit and one veggie and the schools are to offer dark green veggies, orange/red veggies and legumes at least once a week for a variety.
Within 2 years, all grains must be “whole grain rich” or 51% whole grain essentially. The milk has to be 1% or non-fat (sorry 2%, you are outta there). Schools must eliminate trans fats and less than 10% calories can come from saturated fats (WOOT! Love this one).
To read the full regulations/guidelines and all the technical stuff. Check out the PDF on the USDA’s website.
There is even a new Public Law, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was enacted in 2010. This requires the USDA to develop standards for “competitive foods” that are sold in vending machines, snack bars and a la carte items in the reimbursable meals (ie free lunch program). So far the USDA hasn’t released a proposed rule, though. I’d really love to see soda banned in more schools, personally, and a lot of other foods that teens in high school are often choosing over healthier options.This act also states that the schools have to provide free, healthy school meals (breakfast and lunch in most cases) to more children in need. The hitch is to try to break the stereotype put on kids who participate in the free lunch program. Often times the way lines run it is either with a different colored ticket or maybe a different line. I wish there was a way to make this seamless so more kids can and would participate in all schools in the US. Make it somehow done in a computer system vs. having the kids have to show that they are doing something different.
I’ll have more posts coming up about the school nutrition programs. With 2 kids who hate packing a lunch (and would probably pack all junk) and me with no ideas on what to include to make sure they are actually eating the food I send, we do school lunches the majority of the school year. I love knowing what the schools are doing to keep the kids healthy!
disclaimer: I was brought in and paid to attend this conference. All opinions are mine and honest.