What's the Best School Lunch Program?
With Michelle Obama’s push to promote healthy eating, some schools are taking action. We looked at public schools around the country to check out what they’re doing to make lunches healthier. We found some forward thinkers and amazing programs.
The Bellevue School District in Washington State has implemented several healthy eating programs. The first is their Fruit, Vegetable and Grain of the Month Program. For the past 4 to 5 years, one food is featured from each category and information can be found on the district website. There are also educational signs posted in the lunch room and tasting that’s done in the elementary, middle and high schools. Some featured grains have been farro, brown rice, wheat pasta, wheat berries, couscous, and bulgur. Hot, grain-based sides will also be offered this year such as lentil-barley pilaf and wheat berry stuffing.
This year, the Bellevue School District is also implementing Meatless Mondays. Some featured items on the menu are cheese-stuffed pasta shells, cheese enchiladas and a hummus platter.
Serving chocolate milk in schools has been the topic of much debate. In 2012 the USDA recommends that all flavored milk offered in schools should be fat free. In response, the Dayton-area school districts have switched the brand of chocolate milk to TruMoo to meet these guidelines. This brand contains no high fructose corn syrup and is produced locally. It contains 10 to 15 percent fewer calories and 15 to 20 percent less sugar than regular chocolate milk.
One of the best ways to get kids to understand the concept of field-to-plate is to actually get their hands dirty. That’s exactly what’s done in the Christina School District in Delaware. The non-profit organization Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids helps Delaware schools build veggie gardens where students plant, harvest, and then eat the fruit (or veggies) of their labor. Some cool weather crops harvested by 4th and 5th graders in early November include lettuce, bok choy, Swiss chard, sweet turnips and radishes. These veggies are served in the cafeteria for students, teachers and staff to enjoy at no cost.
New Orleans FirstLine Schools works together with the Edible School Yard Program (ESY NOLA) to teach kids about organic gardening and seasonal cooking. They learn to grown, harvest, prepare and enjoy the food they grow together as a community and take pride in their land and natural resources. The children’s education is furthered by field trips and community garden visits. The program has also teamed up with a local specialty market where kids can learn from the butcher, produce and seafood managers.
Fayette County Public Schools have started their “Connect the Dots” program in all of their elementary schools. This program emphasizes balanced meals by posting dots along the cafeteria route. The color system includes blue for dairy/milk, orange for bread/grains, purple for meat/protein alternative, green for veggies and red for fruits. The color-coding coincides with the MyPlate colors to teach kids to select a rainbow of colors at lunch. The lessons go further than the lunchroom with many of the faculty bringing nutrition and healthy eating lessons into their classrooms.