A New Spin on Healthy School Lunches

Sep 06

I can still vividly remember standing in line at my high school cafeteria waiting for whatever “meal” I’d be given. In the late ‘90s healthy school lunches weren’t even a consideration, at least not at my school, with grease-laden stromboli, breakfast for lunch (i.e. cinnamon rolls, french toast sticks and sausage), and fries frequenting the menu. Sadly, in many school districts across the country things haven’t seemed to improve much. When I looked at my 12-year-old nephew’s school lunch menu not long ago I was shocked to see corn dogs!

Luckily for future generations, including my two-year-old son, new Federal nutrition guidelines go into effect this fall. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires schools to serve students fruits and vegetables every day, only fat-free or low-fat milk, serve more whole grains, and limit their use of salt, saturated fat, and trans fat. Calories must also be limited according to the age of the children—kids in kindergarten through 5th grade are limited to 650 calories for lunch and for high schoolers the number increases to 850 calories for lunch. Essentially, the Act allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs for the first time in over 30 years.

Young woman selects fruit in school cafeteria

U.S. News and World Report details some of the interesting and innovative menus schools are testing out to offer kids healthy school meals. Examples include pizza made with whole-grain crust and sweet potato puree sauce, beef barley stew, and spaghetti squash in place of pasta. More examples can be found at the School Nutrition Association’s website: www.traytalk.org. Now, these recipes are incredibly appealing to me, I may even try to model them in my own meal preparations, but I’m honestly not sure how open-minded kids are going to be about trying squash in place in of their pasta.

However, I certainly support this effort and see great value in introducing healthy eating habits to children early, both at home and at school. So hopefully school districts can strike the right balance of losing the corn dogs, while still ensuring kids enjoy their food and understand the health benefits it has. Now if only I could get my two-year to eat something other than macaroni and cheese…

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 at 4:45 pm and is filed under Policy, Public Health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “A New Spin on Healthy School Lunches”

  1. Shannon Walsh says:

    It will be interesting to see in upcoming years if the youth/students take a healthy lunch into their own hands, especially since kids now seem to be much more educated about proper nutrition and know they can cause change. One cafeteria-related example (not directly food related) is from the LA School District, where 6th grade students led a movement of change from plastic foam trays to paper recyclable ones (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/08/lausd-recyclable-lunch-trays.html).