Wellness is a way of life and is one in which local public schools are on board. After years of ‘food fights’ and concern about what exactly our children are eating, our school systems are revamping and upgrading their cafeteria food services. Long gone is the “pink slime” (lean finely textured beef) and ‘mystery meat’ of yester years as a new Federal Meal Pattern has arrived. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Federal Government has issued tough new nutrition standards for meals served to our school children, based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans. School lunches now have many healthy choices for your child each day, positive change is not only on the horizon, it has arrived.
Nutritious changes for 2012-2013 include newly required standards and limits on calories, saturated fats, trans fat and sodium.
All school lunches will include five meal components;
Meat or meat alternate; such as yogurt, lean beef, chicken or low-fat cottage cheese
Grain; half of all grains must be whole grain such as whole-wheat bread or brown rice
Fruit selection; a major increase in fruits is offered (fresh or canned when the availability of fresh fruit is seasonally limited)
Vegetables; a major increase in vegetables is offered, dark green, red/orange and legumes, raw or cooked
Milk selections; at least two milk choices will be offered, low fat or fat free
Each child must select at least three of these five components to make a meal, including a fruit or vegetable. In grades K-8 three quarters of a cup of vegetables must be served per day; in grades 9-12 one cup of vegetables per day. Minimum and maximum grain, protein and calorie standards must also be met along with strict limits on saturated fats, sodium and portion size.
Healthy Food Certification; all public schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must certify annually to the CT State Department of Education (CSDE). The CSDE developed the CT Nutrition Standards which requires the CSDE to publish a set of nutrition standards for all foods offered for sale to students. These standards focus on; limiting fat, trans fat, sodium and sugars, moderating portion sizes, promoting increased intake of nutrient dense foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat/nondairy products, lean meats, legumes, nuts and seeds.
An alarmingly high 84% of American children ages 6-11 do not eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, thus the new changes in the school menu. “We’re focusing a lot on larger portions of colorful fruits and vegetables. Before we did not require students to take a fruit or vegetable, now they must choose at least one and can take more if they’d like,” said Joann Fitzpatrick, DTR, SNS, Manager of Food Services and Nutrition Services for Fairfield Public Schools. “We participate in the Department of Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) and we also purchase fruits and vegetables from local vendors who source it from local CT farmers. Our staff will be encouraging the children to choose healthy options.” Fitzpatrick continued stating over 10,000 students are enrolled in the town of Fairfield’s 16 public schools, “about half” of whom opt for the Cafeteria food daily. “We have a hot lunch (honey lemon chicken, penne primavera with chicken and fresh vegetables); a deluxe meal which includes the salad bar and deli bar: salad bar (chef salad, yogurt parfait, a variety of veggies, turkey and roast beef slices, hardboiled egg, chicken/tuna salad), a deli bar (lower sodium ham, buffalo chicken, assorted sliced cheeses, potato salad), a la carte (bagel, yogurt, string cheese, beverages) and we’re doing a lot of scratch cooking too. We want kids to buy school lunch; it’s a healthy balanced meal.” Fairfield public schools are also having a ‘sample day’ each month in which they introduce students to a new food (edamame bean, kale) which is incorporated as an ingredient into a meal. When asked which the most popular meal is, Fitzpatrick responded “The kids really like the deli bar line.”
Ashton Guilfoile, a Tomlinson Middle School 8th grader enjoys either a cup of fruit, yogurt parfait, a deli sandwich or a blueberry muffin with a bottle of water as her beverage choice. Cailey Wingate, an 8th grade student at Ludlowe Middle School enjoys the bagels and V8 fruit drink, while Amber Wingate, a sophomore at Warde High School, prefers the spicy chicken sandwich and quesadilla. All three do concur however; the pizza line is always long. “Everyone loves the pizza and the cookies.” Fortunately, parents – even the pizza is now whole grain.
Positive change has no doubt arrived and is here to stay, as stated in the public schools meal program motto; We serve education every day. Eat better. Play harder. Live healthier. Learn easier.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week which will suggest nutritious yet cool brown bag lunch ideas!